Should Kids Help In the Kitchen?

by | Oct 22, 2019 | Family

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By Lisa Edwards, Parent Coach

Have you ever tried having your kids help you in the kitchen and it turns into a disaster?  That has happened to me too many times. Then I started reflecting on my role in the disaster.  It was always too easy as a mom to blame it on the kids being too young, or not ready to be in the kitchen.  So, I kicked them out, and didn’t let them back in, which was another mistake, because then my kids couldn’t make any food for themselves which left me, dear old mom, in the kitchen at every meal time, prepping all the food.

Your child may not need to be the next Master Chef Jr, but I think we all agree that at some point, we want them to be comfortable in a kitchen on their own.  

Here are the lessons that I have learned, so take these bits of wisdom and one day your child will be making you breakfast in bed.

Cooking is Messy – with or without kids.

I can remember the first time when I planned to bake cookies with my two little tots.  It was going to be so much fun. We would wear aprons, and I would teach them how to measure all the ingredients.  Then we would frost the cookies, and it would be a magical experience.

Well, there may have been a few tears spilled in with all that flour, salt, and sugar on the floor.  It was crazy. And the kids witnessed their mom freaking out whenever anything didn’t go right into the bowl.  This later created some anxiety in them baking with me.

So  now, the number one rule I have with cooking…we are going to get messy.  I have learned that every time a carton of eggs is dropped on the floor, or oil is dumped on top of my stove, that I need to smile at the kids and remind them that this is OK.  Of course, next time we will try to remember to carry eggs with two hands, or put the lid back on the cooking oil. And guess what? Most of the time they learn from their mistakes.  And it has progressively gotten cleaner and easier as we continue to learn new skills.  

Keep things simple with Kids in the Kitchen

When my daughter became interested in baking, I decided to buy her a book with beautiful recipes of all of these kid snacks she could make which included beautifully frosted cupcakes or cake pops. 

Unfortunately, that is not my style. I bake a cake from a box and slap some frosting from a can on top. I usually do not have the patience to make pink homemade frosting, or unicorn horns out of gumdrops. 

So instead, I just started teaching them what I did, and what I was familiar with.  And that is how you can start too – start with what you know!

And guess what?  They loved just learning how to measure, stir, chop, roll etc.  They needed to learn the basics. You don’t need a fancy “kid” recipe to keep them engaged.  They will have fun making the recipes you use all the time. Boiling noodles is exciting and part of the cooking process.

Sidenote – My daughter is 12 now and she does love to try fancy things with baking.  She learns most of her skills on YouTube and then I let her loose in my kitchen. Since she has been baking for the last 7 years, she is getting quite comfortable on her own, with just a little help with the hot oven.  Otherwise, I just help her get the materials together and she is off on her own!

Cooking is Science

Allow kids to experiment.  They will make mistakes, and can learn from them.  I am constantly learning in the kitchen and understanding how different pans affect my cooking, or different amounts of heat.  Let your children see you make mistakes and talk the process through with them out loud. Sometimes, they ask me how hot they should turn the burner up or how often they should stir something, and my response…just try out different things and see what works best for you.  

This is difficult.  They often want me to tell them exactly how to make something.  I do share bits of wisdom, but I want them to learn how making small adjustments can change the whole recipe.

My daughter has also started experimenting with recipes, and she has created a dish with potatoes, mushrooms and onions that the whole family now loves.  It is simple, yet we had never made it before. And it was from inspiration she found in some of her favorite foods.  

Let Kids Own Their Cooking

Once I started having my kids help with dinner, I have noticed many positive changes.  When they help make something, they are much more willing to eat the food. Otherwise, when I set dinner in front of them, they may say that they didn’t want tacos tonight.  There is generally less complaining and more complimenting happening at the dinner table.

Once children start to feel safe enough to take risks and be independent they will step out and continue to try new things.  Someday, I hope my son’s wife thanks me for teaching him how to cook and help out in the kitchen.

Kids Can Clean Up in the Kitchen Too

Ever since my kids have been in the kitchen, I have shown them different ways to help clean up, such as putting items back into the cupboards or refrigerator, wiping down counters, dishes, etc.  The best tip I have for this, is to not leave all the cleaning for the end.  

We take mini breaks throughout the cooking process to do little clean ups.  We may put away all the materials, or do the dishes that have piled up so far.  Cleaning is then done in these small manageable chunks. Kids need to understand that this is also part of the cooking process.

Conclusion

After many mishaps in the kitchen, I can now say that I have created a safe environment for my children to be creative, experiment, and flourish with cooking.  I am amazed by them everyday, but this is one area where I feel a lot of pride. I also don’t mind when I get to try the fruits of their labor.  

Hopefully you are able to let go of some of your control in the kitchen to let your own children become the master chefs that they are.  

A Few more helpful tips for Kids in the Kitchen

Here is a list of very simple foods that you may not think of teaching your children, but they can start to make these items at any age.  Hopefully this list will get you thinking about what they can help you with the next time you make dinner.

  • Toast
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Quesadilla
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Soup
  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza
  • Tacos
  • Cake or Brownies from a box
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Another Helpful Tool – Our family has an airfryer, which has been one of the best investments for our kitchen.  It is simple to use and our kids love making their own chicken, corn dogs, etc in this appliance. Throw some frozen vegetables in the microwave to go with and you have yourself a meal they can make on their own.  

What is your favorite thing to bake or cook with your children?  Share with us in our Facebook Group or the comments below.

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