Including your kids in the kitchen has so many benefits.
When your kids help in the kitchen it encourages them to be more adventurous with food and try whatever is on the table. It empowers them to feel comfortable in the kitchen using whole foods. It builds a foundation for them to be independent, healthy adults and it provides quality family time.
But, as busy wives, moms and working women, the idea of inviting your children into the kitchen can be a bit overwhelming (enter visions of chocolate splattered on the kitchen cupboards and ingredients strewn all over the once clean countertops).
However, the time invested in teaching them how to cook is well-spent and is easier than you think. As an added bonus, all these hands-on tasks can ease the stress of keeping your kiddos entertained while you cook.
Here’s how you can welcome your toddler into the kitchen and get them involved in preparing and cooking real food.
If your kiddos are new to the world of culinary creativity, don’t stress! Start out slow and be patient. Once they begin to understand the basics of cooking, and you see the fruits of your labor, it becomes fun (and helpful too!).
Keep in mind that every toddler is different, and these guidelines are general. Some kids may be behind or ahead of these suggestions.
The hand-over-hand technique
When your little chef is just starting out, the hand-over-hand technique is a great way to explain and show them how to do something. You’ll encourage independence while also fostering a sense of security. Place your hand over theirs so you can direct them with your own.
Cooking with 3-5 year olds
This is a great age to start focusing on supervised independence, as your kiddos will have a little more freedom in this age group. You’ll do a lot of demonstrating and explaining along the way, and even though they may not be chopping, peeling or pouring, tell them how and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Talk about the food you’re making, where it came from and why it’s prepared the way it is: “We remove the seeds from squash because unless they’re roasted, they’re chewy and tough.”
This is a fun age because they can recognize more, like hot versus cold, and understand cause and effect actions. This is also a perfect age to explain to them the principles of stovetop safety. When you go to the grocery store or farmer’s market, share with them how to pick fresh produce.
Help them feel confident and safe by getting right up behind them, placing your hands on top of theirs and helping guide them as they take on new tasks. Most importantly, give them accolades and let them know when they’ve done a great job!
Some things to try:
- Help count out how many potatoes, zucchini or other produce to use.
- Wash delicate fruits and veggies (tomatoes, pears and peaches).
- Dump ingredients into a bowl (you measure, they dump).
- Gently stir ingredients (or water) in a large bowl to start learning how to stir without splashing.
- Continue to work on pouring skills (there’s bound to be spills—let it go; this ties into that cause and effect recognition!).
- Knead dough with their hands.
- Cut or slice soft foods (like an avocado or a banana) with a child-safe knife.
- Spread nut butter and jelly on bread with a plastic knife.
- Mash potatoes or bananas with a hand masher.
- Make zoodles with a zucchini spiraler.
- Press Homemade Granola Bars into the pan.
- Make a chocolate chip smiley face in their pancake batter on the griddle.
- Use a cookie cutter and place the cookies on a baking sheet.
- Show them the different kitchen utensils and explain what they’re used for.
- Show them how to wash dishes with the hand-over-hand technique (and then let them play in the water a little bit).
- Discuss basic tastes and textures of food.
- Help set the table (using plastic or paper plates).
- Match silverware as you empty the dishwasher.
- Go to a local farm and pick berries off the vine.
Some recipes to try:
- Double Chocolate Banana Muffins (mashing and stirring)
- Early Morning Avocado Toast (mashing)
- Healthy Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispie Treats (to press into the pan)
- Herbed Mashed Potatoes (mashing)
- Homemade Granola Bars (press mixture into the pan)
Tips for mom
The truth is, teaching your kids just about anything in life takes time. There will be moments when you shoo your kids out of the kitchen because you can’t bare another mess (been there!).
Weekends, when you’re not in a rush are a great time to invite your kiddos into the kitchen. Plan ahead (maybe even meditate first!) so you can laugh about the blunders, rather than allow them to fuel frustration. Let your little chef crack an egg into the batter, even if a shell makes its way in (just remember to scoop it out). Allow them to make a little bit of a mess while they measure ingredients out. It’s all part of the learning process. Maybe let them wear an apron so they feel official and have them help choose a recipe (or a themed meal, like a Homemade Pizza Party or Taco Night) that they’ll get excited about.
Learning opportunities for your culinary kiddos
- Stovetop safety
- Math: counting, measuring
- How to follow instructions (without wanting to skip around or taste test too much)
- Time and patience
Some great kitchen tools for kids
Looking for the perfect gift idea? These make great stocking stuffers during the holidays, fun birthday gifts and are a great way to learn through playing:
- Play food
- Cutting play set
- Pots and Pans Pretend Play Kitchen Set
- An all-in-one kitchen play set
- Little Helper’s Shopping Cart
- Kid-safe knives
- Kid-safe crinkle cutter
- Herb shears
- Child-size aprons
- Little Helpers Stand
Spending time together in the kitchen will foster an interest in healthy living that will last a lifetime!
We don’t want our kids heading off to college not knowing how to cook and relying on fast food and frozen dinners. Keep it fun, lighthearted and encourage them. It may take a little time, patience and flexibility, but the time you spend in your kitchen with your kiddos can be a beautiful bonding experience.
Follow these simple suggestions, figure out what they enjoy from each list and focus on mastering those skills. Your goal should be whenever you ask your kids to help with dinner they find it fun rather than responding with resistance.
Let’s raise a real food generation – together!
We would love to hear how your kiddos are helping in the kitchen. Comment below!
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