When you include the kids in the kitchen, it doubles as valuable family time and a subtle, hands-on learning experience. Plus, when your kids are involved, cooking becomes less of a chore and more of a fun, beloved pastime.
Here’s everything you need to know about cooking as a family:
Teaching valuable skills
Cooking is a basic and important life skill that your kids will appreciate learning in the comfort of their own home. As you cook with them, take the opportunity to explain how temperature and seasonings change the look, feel and taste of foods. You can teach them new vocabulary to describe the foods you’re cooking with, plus have them practice their math and reading skills when following recipes. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about healthy eating and the importance of maintaining a balanced diet. Extend these lessons to grocery shopping by having them help you choose the right foods and ingredients for what you’ll be cooking together later. As they become more involved with the entire process, they’ll develop positive associations toward food.
While getting the kids in the kitchen is a great way to build valuable skills, it won’t be effective if you’re irritable, tired or short on time. Make sure you have the energy and patience to involve the kids. You don’t have to include them every day, but try to build a regular routine of cooking together.
Sharing the responsibility
It’s important to make your kids feel included, so give everyone a specific task or responsibility. Depending on how old your kids are, you may need to categorize the tasks by age. And don’t worry, there are easy tasks that even your youngest kids can help with! They can help gather, pour and stir ingredients, rinse fruits and vegetables or set the table. As they get older, you can introduce more complex tasks like chopping foods, reading recipes aloud, measuring ingredients, mashing potatoes or cracking eggs. Once they enter the double digits, they should be able to use the oven and complete tasks more independently.
If you have a big family and are worried about having too many cooks in the kitchen, consider rotating responsibilities. Maybe one night some kids are on cooking duty while the others are in charge of cleaning up after everyone finishes eating.
Keeping safety in mind
No matter how old your kids are, it’s important to supervise your assistant chefs. It can help to have your spouse or other adult in the kitchen to help avoid burns and cuts. Teach the kids how to properly use kitchen tools and equipment, and carefully explain what is unsafe to touch, such as sharp knives or a hot oven. Make sure they know how to use oven mitts, and how to safely turn appliances on and off. While certain safety tips and rules are important to teach at the beginning, such as not touching hot appliances and handling sharp tools correctly, don’t worry about explaining everything at once. Certain lessons will come up naturally as you’re cooking different meals together.
Expanding their taste buds
Another perk to cooking with the kids: There will be much less fuss over what’s on their plate if they helped you put it there. When they’re involved in the cooking process and understand more about different ingredients, the finished dish will feel more familiar to them even if they’ve never tried it before. This is why kids who cook tend to be less picky, and happily eat more fruits and vegetables. Thus, when they’re involved in the cooking process, they’ll become more open-minded, adventurous eaters. Plus, if you try a successful new recipe as a family, they’ll feel a sense of pride for helping make something that everyone enjoyed.
Trying new recipes
Struggling to come up with easy meals to make with the kids? Anything with lots of toppings can be great go-to meals, especially because the kids will have fun running down an assembly line of ingredients to prepare their own meal. Think homemade, personal pizzas with sauces, cheeses and family-favorite toppings. Or, have a taco night and let them choose from lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, guacamole and shredded cheese to build their personal combination of toppings. Kitchen time with the kids is also the perfect opportunity to pass down family recipes and tell them about the memories you associate with the dish. In the same vein, special festive and cultural recipes are a great hands-on way to teach the kids about different cultures and their traditions.
For more ideas, try this collection of kid-friendly recipes from Parenting.com, which includes easy-to-assemble pizzas, kebabs, pinwheels and more. Food Network also serves up plenty of recipes to get the little ones involved, from pancake animals to playful spaghetti dishes. Another great resource for nutritional recipes is Cooking with Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging healthy eating and hands-on learning for kids and their families. If the kids show interest in cooking with you, it can also be fun to sign up for family classes for cooking tips and practice with family-friendly recipes.
Finally, take a deep breath and embrace the spills and messes the kids will inevitably bring into the kitchen. Make sure to compliment your sous chefs and encourage them to keep making meals with you. It will all be worth it when they’re prepared to cook future meals for themselves (and you!) and follow a healthy, balanced diet well into adulthood.