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5 Tips for Cooking with Children

by Mikkee Hall

kitchen

July 15, 2014

5 Tips For Cooking with Children

Cooking with small children. It used to give me a shudder up my spine. The mess. The arguments. The chaos. But I remember wearing matching gingham aprons with my grandma as we made homemade noodles, baked cakes, and chopped salads. She invited me into cooking as a small child and I cherish the memories of our time together in the kitchen.

Girded with my memories, I wanted to share my love for cooking with the children in my family in the same way. Here are 5 ways I've made cooking with small children an enjoyable experience, and not simply something I endure.

1. Get in the right frame of mind

Before I could enjoy cooking with little ones, I had to change the way I viewed the process. I listed out why it mattered to me to cook with my favorite little people. The memories I cherish, I decided, were worth the mess and arguments. When I went into cooking with the kids as an invitation to enter into an activity with me, it changed the experience for us both. It became an opportunity instead of a headache.

2. Designate a day

But let’s face it, some days you just don’t have the time to deal with the extra clean up cooking with children takes. Look at your week and choose a day where your family doesn’t have to be out the door at a certain time and designate it as the day the kids participate in cooking the meal and mix it up between breakfast, lunch and dinner!

3. Keep it age appropriate

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is doling out jobs that are age appropriate. Even the smallest of toddlers wants to be a helper! Here are a few examples

  • 18-24 months – they can place fish sticks or chicken nuggets on the sheet; with assistance stir mixes; toss veggies in oil and salt you have placed in a Ziploc baggie.
  • 2-5 years – they can pour pre-measured items; stir mixes; crack eggs; drop or roll out cookies; help garnish or decorate.
  • 5 years and beyond – read the recipe; measure and pour items; set the oven and timer; stir mixes; crack eggs.

4. Teach them how to help

Cooking and baking is an amazing opportunity to create memories and teach your children valuable lessons. Be the teacher (even if you don’t think you are the greatest cook or baker), your children can and will learn so much through cooking with you. A few common lessons include:

  • Washing hands – before cooking make it a standard practice for everyone to wash their hands.
  • Safety – safety in the kitchen is enormously important. Children can learn to wash hands after handling meats or eggs; how to handle the oven; how to handle hot pots and pans. Instruct as you go and don’t be afraid to show a child first. Gauge your child’s ability on safety issues and move forward based on your individual child!
  • Math – Cooking and baking are fun ways to teach children math, especially fractions!
  • Confidence – cooking with your children is a great way to boost their skills and confidence.

5. Clean-up together

When we cook and bake, inevitably there is clean-up. Have your children assist with the clean-up to their age appropriate level. It is an important way to teach responsibility and teamwork to your children. 


 

 

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What cooking tip would you add to our list?

Share your thoughts

I have found I need to put the first tip into practice (getting into the right frame of mind) to make cooking with my kids most enjoyable. If there's something special I want to make I just need to wait until after bedtime!

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Angela, waiting until after bedtime is a great idea, if you want the time and quiet!

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I started cooking really young. My mom decided to take advantage of my interest and began teaching me simple recipes for every time of day. As I was able to show her that I understood how the process worked and could read the recipes she have me a day to cook dinner by myself one day a week. She just supervised but I did the work. It took a little of the pressure off of her. The earlier moms start working in the kitchen side by side with our kids the earlier they will be able to really help out with the joy of cooking.

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Sounds like your mom gave you an invaluable gift, Julie!

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Make what they want to make. Let them "cook" with flour and spices and water. Adding their own ingredients and learning to mix and measure.

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Great idea! I bet the kids love the chance to be creative.

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I hold the three year old up to help scoop and dump the oats into the pan at the right time. It's super fast and no big deal... to me. She loves it.

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Scooping and pouring is fun when you are three!

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Patience is my number 1 tip! Also, I like to let my daughter help out with breakfast, lunch, snack, or dessert instead of hectic dinner time.

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Patience is essential, Tara. Great idea on doing cooking at times not in the most hectic time.

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Wear something special, like aprons or (homemade) chefs hats, so the kids have an "uniform" to show they're an official helper.

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Chef hats and aprons are very fun!

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Love no bake recipes with my child.

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No bake recipes are perfect for little ones!

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My kids only get to be near the stove if they are paying attention. If they start to get distracted, they have to do something else. They are learning that they have to stay focused to stay safe.

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A great cooking rule, Angela, and an important life lesson.

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Get some kitchen gadgets that are "kid-friendly". I love my onion chopper because my 3 year old can place small cut veggies on there, push down the top and dice the veggies. A great help to me and kid-friendly fun for her!

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What a perfect idea, Sara!

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Let each of your kids have their own apron to wear when helping out in the kitchen. It really helps them to feel like they're part of "the team" - it's like wearing a team uniform - there's just something fun and encouraging about feeling like you belong there! :)

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Great idea, TK! I loved wearing matching aprons with my grandmother as a child.

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make sure to use a surface other than the countertop to have them help, such as the kitchen table. Much easier to clean!

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Great idea, Tracie!

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If you want them to help, but don't have time for them to help with the whole thing, have them help with part. Have them help you get all the ingredients together, or have them be your "human stand mixer" (stand there and mix, kiddo!). If they are part of the process, then they will still feel proud, and more likely to eat the results!

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Leah, great ideas, thanks!

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Make sure I have cleaned up the cooking area before hand to keep the temptation to dump everything in the mixer away.

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Sometimes have the octopus' 8 arms would be helpful when cooking with kids. This is a great tip to avoid that type of issue.

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Make it fun...if she wants to stop, I let her. Toddler attention span doesn't last the whole batch of cookies, just the first sheet :)

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Hahaha, that is very true, Christie. Thank you for a great tip.

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I have success with my two year old if I have all the ingredients out and measured before I get him involved. That way he doesn't have down time with my back turned to get into trouble or lose interest. I often will still put him in his high chair and use the tray as a work surface. He can't reach or see into bowls on the counter. He also loves when he can assemble his own dinner. I will set out things like taco fixings, pizza toppings, or pita filler to make his own.

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Great tips, Bonnie! Thank you.

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I always have to remember it's going to take at least twice as long to get something in the oven when I cook with my girls then if I do it by myself.

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So true! Thanks, Pamela.

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