It seems to me that kids are always eager to get into the kitchen. For one, the result is usually some type of delicious FOOD. (Who doesn’t love that?!) For two, you are there. Ask most kids if they’d like to help you with cooking, and chances are they’ll say yes because they want to be WITH YOU (whether they admit it or not).
Teenagers, tweens, school-age kids, and even toddlers can help in the kitchen. Cooking is an incredibly important life skill, you get to spend some meaningful time together, and bonus: kids are more likely to try something new if they’ve had a hand in preparing it. Who knows, they may even cook dinner FOR YOU one day!
So, how do we get started? Here are five tips:
- Set Ground Rules. Keep it simple with these three rules: Ask permission before using new tools. Never touch the stove or oven without permission. Listen to directions. Kids are more likely to follow your expectations if they’re laid out clearly from the start. It’s a lot harder to follow the rules if you seem to be making them up as you go. Know what you expect and communicate it upfront. Remind kids of these ground rules before each time that you cook together.
- Plan What You’re Going to Make WITH Your Child. Invite your child to help choose a recipe or meal they would like to make for the family. Help them learn to plan by looking around the kitchen to see which ingredients you already have and what you’ll need to purchase. Then, take them shopping at your favorite grocery store or farmer’s market.
- Prepare a Safe Space for Kids to Work. Children need to feel like they’re prepared for and aware of what they’re getting into. For little ones, this might look like a step stool or fenced-in “learning tower” for them to stand on. Older kids might have a designated place at the counter. Don’t forget to demonstrate how to use kitchen tools safely. The more they understand upfront, the more prepared and confident they’ll feel when you begin your recipe.
- Prep for Your Recipe. Wash hands, wash fruit and vegetables (a great job for little ones), and gather all of the tools and ingredients you’ll need for your recipe on your countertop. By putting in the prep time first, you’ll save yourself the time and stress of searching for ingredients or tools when you’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the stove, or your little one.
- Set the Expectation that Cleanup is Part of Cooking. When you finish using a bowl or a spoon, place it by the sink. Keep a wet dishrag nearby to wipe up quick messes. Put ingredients away, or gather them together on the side, after you use them. Although these small steps don’t always happen, when they do, I find it lessens the blow of a full kitchen cleanup at the end of a meal. Inevitably though, there is clean up after cooking. Kids can help dry dishes and put them away, put ingredients away, and wipe the counters. Older kids can even help wash dishes.
Know this now: it will get messy. Even adults are messy when they cook. Throw a kid or two into the mix and watch out! It’s all part of the fun, and everything can be cleaned, especially if you’ve set that expectation.
So if someone spontaneously starts a flour fight, go with it. You’ll make a wonderful mess and a wonderful memory.