From the time our firstborn could sit up in a high chair and watch us cook, we would hand him some measuring cups and spoons to play with so he could “participate.” Our kitchen is definitely the center of our home and we like to have our kids in the kitchen with us. And kids LOVE to be kitchen helpers; however, sometimes cooking with children can be more frustrating than fun. Here’s some tips for a great kitchen experience for all:
It’s important to create an environment in which they can safely tackle new skills so they have as much freedom as is age appropriate to explore the world of cooking. I have two must-have items for kitchen helpers. One is a learning tower like the one Benjamin is using in the photo above. They are a bit out of our price range so my husband Daniel made one. Stools are easy to slip off of or flip over (especially, we discovered, if you are a constantly squirming 3-year-old boy). To avoid having to say, “Careful!” a thousand times, use a learning tower which makes helping at counter-height much easier for kids. It also keeps them in one place which seriously improves my son’s ability to focus on the task at hand.
My newest favorite children’s cooking item is this vegetable crinkle cutter that Benjamin calls his “knife.” It has a curvy blade that isn’t super sharp and is awesome for teaching kids to chop vegetables. Obviously, young children still need adult supervision to use this item and need to be taught knife safety skills. Benjamin has been loving getting to help with chopping and in one sitting chopped 16 carrots, and 8 potatoes for some slow cooker beef stew I was making. He was SO proud of himself and made sure everyone knew he had contributed to the dinner preparation.
Give yourself plenty of time whenever you tackle a kitchen task with kids in tow. If you are rushing to complete a meal, it’s hard (at least for me) not to get frustrated with the constant interruptions and inevitable minor disasters. A relaxed cooking environment gives all the tiny cooks (and mom and dad) a better experience in the kitchen.
Be OK with messes! Everything in the kitchen will be messier with children helping. Just embrace the mess and don’t let it get in the way of having a great time.
These are some good cooking tasks for children, listed from easiest to hardest:
- Dumping: After you measure out an ingredient, allow your child to be in charge of adding it to the bowl.
- Mixing: Let your child mix ingredients together with a large spoon or whisk. It’s helpful to offer a large bowl in comparison to the amount of mixture to prevent ingredients from spilling over the sides during energetic mixing.
- Kneading: Kids love to knead bread and punch it down after it rises!
- Cutting in butter: This is a more difficult skill but a great one to introduce your child to when preparing something like biscuits. Benjamin tires of it after a few minutes but he’s starting to get the hang of it.
- Chopping: We didn’t start letting Benjamin do this task until just last week. You will be the best judge of when your child is ready.
Sometimes having helpers in the kitchen is a wonderful, warm, and fuzzy experience. Sometimes it just goes wrong. A couple days ago when Benjamin was helping me roll out pizza dough, everything went to shambles. He stopped following instructions and I had a shorter fuse than usual because we had time limits. We just had to give up for the afternoon. It happens. But we’ll pick up again next time and I can’t wait to see him run to grab his apron with a big smile on his face!
Do you let your kids help in the kitchen? How do you make it a good experience for all?