Teaching kids to cook can be a wonderful experience for everyone. The kitchen is where memories are made and relationships strengthened over kneading bread or shaping cookies. Plus, cooking is an important life skill and children who learn early have more time to practice and become confident in their abilities before being out on their own. Of course, having children in the kitchen can also be a challenge, as every step is more time-consuming and messier than when you are cooking by yourself. Here are some simple ways to make the most out of cooking with your kids.
Nothing can make tempers fray and take the fun out of cooking like trying to get everything done within a short timeframe. Especially for children who are very young or just starting out in the kitchen, don’t make your first project dinner that has to be on the table by 6:00. Instead, plan a morning or afternoon where you can take your time to enjoy the experience so your child won’t feel rushed and you won’t feel stressed.
It’s also important to start off with simple projects and work up to more complicated ones. For very young children, your first few “recipes” should center around easy steps such as adding ingredients, stirring, and assembling. For example, children who aren’t old enough to start using knives can help tear lettuce for a salad, then add all the other ingredients as you chop them, and finally help toss the salad. It’s a simple way to let your child be involved with every step of the recipe without requiring any challenging skills.
One way to help reluctant children become excited about cooking is to give them an appropriate level of responsibility and ownership of the project. Rather than deciding on the recipe, shopping on your own and laying out all the ingredients, let your child have control over parts of the process. Make a list of several recipes that you feel are the correct skill level and your child would want to eat. Then let her choose which one she wants to try. Buy the ingredients together, and let her do as much of the work herself as possible.
Get the Right Tools
It’s important for your child to have the proper tools to succeed in his cooking projects. This doesn’t mean you have to outfit your kitchen with hundreds of dollars’ worth of specialty utensils, but there are a few basics that are good to have. A child-sized apron is a great place to start. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you could create a makeshift apron by cutting the sleeves off an adult T-shirt.
You should also have some kid-friendly tools. If your budget is tight, try to choose things that will still be useful after your child grows older. Shatter-resistant mixing bowls and measuring cups (such as plastic or Pyrex) are extremely useful. If your child is old enough to use the oven, a set of well-fitted oven mitts is a great addition to your kitchen. You may also want to consider a set of child-sized knives and utensils.
Use Videos to Teach
Children learn in unique ways and learning to cook is no different. If your child is a visual learner, she may enjoy watching cooking demonstrations as part of learning what to do in the kitchen. Short, no-frills videos are great, especially for younger children who don’t have a long attention span. The Hampton Creek YouTube page has a great selection of recipe videos. It’s an excellent resource for cooking with kids because all the recipes are fairly simple and use Hampton Creek’s healthy products, so you don’t have to worry about making junk food.
Step Back and Have Fun
One of the best things you can do for your child is make learning to cook a positive experience. Prepare yourself for the eventuality of messes and recipe failures. It’s part of learning to cook, and if you can keep a positive attitude with your child you will build his confidence quickly. It’s also helpful to step back and let your child handle as much as he can on his own. It will help him take pride in his work and truly enjoy personal victories.
Cooking with your children is one of the most important things you can do. Not only will you be teaching your child a vital skill, you’ll be spending time together and nurturing your relationship with her. Additionally, you can use the time to teach your children about the perseverance necessary to master a skill and the pride that comes from a job well done.