Marie and Claire help me with a portion of dinner almost every night. At their current ages (1 and 2), “help” is a lot of dumping, mixing, pouring, attempting to cut with a knife that is safe for children, and a LOT of taste testing.
While I am thankful for the time we get to spend in the kitchen together, and I love seeing their skills improve over time, I completely understand that inviting kids into the kitchen is far from a time saver. The entire process is very messy, things take longer, and there are definitely some frustrating moments BUT there are a ton of benefits to cooking with kids.
Cooking with children can be a fun way to get kids EXCITED about food and help them feel a little more in control about the foods they decide to eat.
There is even research to support that having kids help in the kitchen increases their produce intake while also increasing their overall intake at meal time. From my personal experience, Marie and Claire are both very likely to try an ingredient we are cooking with (like raw greens or other vegetables) that usually go untouched on their meal plate.
How do you decide which tasks to give to your child? My suggestion here is to start small and to pay attention to what your child is interested in. At a pretty early age, Marie started peeling the garlic (which is a task that even I can find challenging) because I noticed she was mimicking what I was doing when I was doing it. I like to read the recipe ahead of time and pick out a few specific tasks that the girls will be successful with and then I ask if they want to do it. Most of the time they do, but sometimes they don’t.
Kitchen tasks for young children:
This post from Eatright.org outlines many tasks for children to help with in the kitchen and also categorizes them by age.
How do you incorporate safety in the kitchen with kids?
My biggest tip here is to provide supervision 100% of the time when you cooking with your kids. There are sharp objects, things that are unsafe to eat (ex: raw meat), and very hot things that can pose a safety risk to your child. Keep eyes on your child at all times to make sure nothing happens.
It’s also important to discuss safety and why you are making certain choices with your child. For example, explain why your child has to use a different knife than what you are using, or why they can’t eat the raw meat before it is cooked. Marie and Claire are usually very happy to comply with safety rules, they are just curious about what is going on and why things are the way they are.
Here are some simple TIPS for how to start cooking with kids
Embrace the mess. I try to teach my girls my routine of cleaning as I go, but at the end of the day I know that cooking is a time to get messy.
Have fun. We play music and try to keep the mood light.
Allow your kids to try the ingredients of the meal. We typically set aside some ingredients for tasting and then measure out the right amount for the recipe.
Ask your young kids to dump or pour the amount you have measured out. Older kids can do the measuring or other more complicated tasks.
Mise en place or have everything in place. I don’t have the ability to do this every time I cook with the girls, but having all the ingredients and tools out and ready before asking the girls to join in and “help” allows the process to be a bit more smooth and fun.
Silicone muffin liners (we love to use these as little bowls)