Cooking With Kids Tips and Tricks

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Image via Angela England

Cooking with kids might sound like the start of a horror movie to some parents, but what I’m learning is that a little mess and a lot of guidance now will reap dividends later in life. Even though some of my kids are still littles (Infant, toddler, and preschooler! The trifecta of insanity.), I have two children who at 7 and 8 ½ are learning to be a lot more independent in the kitchen. And that means – helpful. Truly helpful.

Here are some of my favorite tips for cooking with kids:

1. Visit the Safety Rules – Often

The oven is hot. Raw meat has germs, so you have to wash surfaces that it has touched carefully to keep them from making you sick. Water spilled on the floor needs to be wiped off so we don’t trip and fall.

They won’t remember the rules from just one recitation, so don’t be afraid to remind them several times – probably each time you’re in the kitchen with them and the opportunity presents itself. You aren’t nagging. You are training.

Safety Tip – Get one of those can openers that breaks the seal at the side instead of cutting through the top of tin cans. There are no sharp edges, no potential fingers getting cut, etc. I got mine from Pampered Chef and it’s been worth every cent times ten.

2. Let Them Try – and Sometimes Fail

What happens if we double the amount of flour in a recipe but not the wet ingredients? Well that’s the start of an excellent science experiment and study on ratios and fractions. All concepts best learned by doing.

Why not let them try a unique seasoning on a portion of the food or play with ratios in a simple pancake recipe. Don’t let them ruin supper – but they can try (and fail) with a small portion you’ve given over to them to have, and they will learn a lot.

Call it practice and no feelings are hurt. My daughter at 7 years old can crack and scramble eggs and prepare her own breakfasts but that didn’t happen without one or two ending up on the floor.

3. Be Prepared for Messes

Speaking of egg on the floor… I’m just saying that wherever kids are, messes follow. Don’t squelch their willingness to try, but instead be mentally prepared for a slightly larger mess than the average dinner prep session. If you are ready for it, you will be more patient with them through their learning process.

Just remember two things. The first – if they are old enough to make the mess, they are likely old enough to help clean it up. Even my 18 month old will drag a towel across spilled water on the floor to soak it up. Show them what you want done and they will mimic you. Cheer for them when they get it right and you’ll be having fun together.

The second thing to remember is that a small mess and small hassle now will return a great reward in the end. I will never forget when I slept in late after a sick-baby-all-night-sleepless bout and my 8 year old greeted me with, “Good morning mom! Everyone had cereal and I made you coffee.” I’m not even joking that I thought I’d gone to heaven. He was (rightfully) so proud of himself for having handled things that morning and it was only possible because we had allowed him to make a few messes at 4 and 5.

4. Set Them Up for Success

When you know you’re going to have your kids “helping” you in the kitchen, make it easy for them. Choose recipes that don’t require too much prep time or complicated techniques. Make a simple tossed salad and let them put everything into the bowl. Of course, I’m not saying don’t eat what your family loves to eat – just choose wisely what you cook on days your kids are in the kitchen with you.

5. Take Turns for Sanity’s Sake

Most kids are used to the concept of taking turns already so I use this technique to keep my kids from ever feeling like I think they can’t do something. Instead of saying “No that’s too hard, let me.” Or “You can’t do that.” I simply say, “Awesome! My turn now.”

I cut the veggies, and they get to put them into the salad. They get to put things INTO the oven (when the cookie tray is cool and easier to handle) and I get to take the sizzling hot items out. I melt the butter on the stove while they add the flour and sugar into the cookie mix. We take turns. I just make sure my turns include all the sharp knives and open flames! Pretty smart, eh?

Cooking with your kids doesn’t have to be too stressful if you prepare ahead, plan for success, and allow for the boo boos. Remember it’s just practicing for when they are independent adults and fending for themselves. They (and their spouses) will thank you for the time and energy you invest in helping them learn these new life skills now. 

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Cooking With Kids Tips and Tricks

Angela England is a renaissance woman who doesn't let five children stop her from many pursuits, interests and tasks. Angela is a freelance writer, professional blogger, speaker, labor doula, massage therapist and can usually be found with a coffee nearby. Angela recently published her first book, Backyard Farming on an Acre (more or less) and has since published her first Untrained Housewife Guide - Getting Prepared. ... More

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2 comments

  1. the safety reminders are key! My daughter (11) often cooks eggs for breakfast but accidentally turned the burner on high this morning and added too much oil to the bottom of the pan. I’m glad I came into the kitchen when I did! I told her a grownup needs to present the next few times. Scared me so bad!

    • Profile photo of Angela EnglandAuthor Angela England says:

      Definitely safety reminders are key. We sometimes play the “what if” game and practice some safety responses. But I’m always AROUND even if I’m hanging over their shoulders.

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