I used to be a terrible cook. Seriously, terrible. Like, I burned water. Yes, it can be done if you forget about it long enough. So . . . yeah, I basically couldn’t make macaroni and cheese.
When we started having children, it became quite evident that cooking was something I might have to figure out . . . unless we were going to be either takeout junkies or professional breakfast eaters . . . because I could pour a bowl of cereal. Thankfully (for everyone involved), my husband is an excellent cook and was very patient while I
mastered culinary arts learned how to follow a recipe.
Once I got past boiling water and some simple dinners, I wanted to cook . . . but I didn’t want to do it alone. I wanted my children to know how to cook, to build some confidence in their self-reliance, and to be involved in contributing to the family. Also, I wanted people to help with dishes . . . seriously.
Five Tips for Getting Children Involved in Cooking and Teaching Kids to Cook
1. Let kids help with meal planning
Meal planning is my nemesis, but a necessary evil. If I don’t plan, we eat cereal* or takeout. Getting the kids involved makes meal planning easier, gets them excited about meals, and ensures someone will eat what’s on the table. The kids are allowed to choose from a pre-approved list of recipes for our weekly meal plan. Whoever chooses a recipe is the “meal helper” and they also often accompany me to the grocery store and help pick out the ingredients we need.
2. Keep the kitchen kid-friendly
If you want your kids cooking with you, I recommend a little bit of planning. I arrange things in my kitchen so that my children can help as much as possible, but also in a way that keeps the sharpest knives and other hazards out of reach. For the littles, some of our team swears by these wavy choppers – to get toddlers involved in dicing up vegetables or fruit. Also, when teaching kids to cook, don’t forget little ones are fantastic at mixing and pouring in pre-measured ingredients.
3. Set jobs and expectations early to avoid fights, hurt feelings, and fires while teaching kids to cook
When it’s time to cook, the “meal helper” has to look at the recipe and tell me what we need for the meal. Once we’ve gathered ingredients, the very first thing we do is read through instructions from start to finish. Then, we decide who has the skills to safely accomplish each step and assign jobs. This not only helps prevent fights around sharp knives and the stove over who gets to chop and who gets to stir but also allows me to guide who may have an opportunity to learn a new skill.
3. Give kids a “signature” recipe
Nothing fancy, but my oldest son’s “go-to” recipe is for a simple potato soup. It gives him confidence when he makes it, and it’s something I know he’s able to do without much supervision and the whole family loves it. We even refer to it as “his” potato soup, which makes him smile and take ownership of it. This also makes meal planning easy, because I know I can always suggest a “signature” recipe for the week.
4. Try not to step in
I try to only intervene with the kids cooking process when something potentially dangerous, is happening. ( e.g.too advanced for their skill level (knife control, oven safety), raw or under-cooked food, grease fire hazards, etc.) Yes, it’s REALLY hard when they are making a “mistake” not to swoop in, take control, and correct them,. Instead, I gently ask everyone to pause and my “meal helper” reads that portion of the instructions again.
5. Above all, have fun!
Teaching kids to cook takes patience, and sometimes the meals don’t come out quite right. Regardless of whether or not the finished product is delicious, make sure the process is fun. Also, consider keeping condiments on hand, because Ranch makes anything taste better. Cooking with my children isn’t just about the food, it’s about talking, laughing, accomplishing something together that we feel good about . . . even if we end up burning the meal and eating cereal. Also, cleanup is sometimes the most fun part of the whole process. Yes, seriously.
How do you get your kids cooking in the kitchen?
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*Note: I have nothing against cereal. I like cereal for a quick, nutritious, no-fuss breakfast, and ate lots of cereal on my journey to successful water boiling. Additionally, Breakfast for dinner is AWESOME . . . and very well received if pancakes, waffles, or at least some build your own omelets are involved)