I use the term “help” quite liberally with my children. As my 2-year-old dumps a measuring cup full of water all over the counter, I encourage him, “Thank you for helping with the dishes!” Secondarily, I attempt to reign in his exuberance, “Please keep the water in the sink.”
I want to instill in my boys a sense of shared responsibility and confidence in their abilities. I will continue to ask for their help. But in my mind, I mentally translate the word “help” to “participate” to preserve my sanity. Cooking with kids, especially young ones, can take longer, is messier, and can try your patience. And still, I do it all the time.
There are so many benefits to having children participate in the kitchen. A recent study links kids’ involvement in the kitchen with healthier food choices. Cooking with kids also provides an opportunity for shared experience and even practice with fine motor skills.
You’ll notice having your own personal, pint-sized sous chef is not on the list. When kids start helping in the kitchen, it can require more work for you. Don’t take my word for it– Crazed in the Kitchen knows how to do it the hard way. But the benefits make the extra effort and planning worth it. Here are some discoveries I’ve made about cooking with my kids.
Help yourself by setting up ground rules that you can live by. My children would love to do entire recipes start-to-finish, but I don’t have the patience for this. I do a lot of, “your turn, my turn” to speed things along. As they have grown, their participation has grown.
5 things kids can do in the kitchen
1. Cutting fruit
With the proper tools, your child can cut soft fruits and vegetables. My son has been using a crinkle cutter at his Montessori school since he was three. Apparently, he is one mean banana-slicer. The small hands catalog has a variety of options.
To set your child up for success: Cut fruit into manageable slices she can work with. Halve fruits like apples (or make even smaller pieces) so there is a flat side so fruit won’t wobble. Always supervise your child with potentially unsafe kitchen tasks.
This one is self-explanatory but bears inclusion. Stirring pancake batter was the first thing my son helped me do in the kitchen. Now I can’t make any recipe without him asking to help stir. It’s been a great avenue to discuss fast and slow, gently and rough, and so on.
To set your child up for success: Make sure you are using a large enough bowl to help contain any mess.
Have your child scoop, level, and dump ingredients for recipes at your side. Taylor the amount he is responsible for by his ability. With my two-year old I scoop, and he dumps. Through pracitce, my four-year-old does the entire task.
To set your child up for success: Allow her to push her skills without compromising the recipe. Have her measure and poor into a separate bowl. If needed, you can re-measure before adding to the mixture.
4. Making Snack “Hors D’oeuvres”
I’m a big fan of what I call “snack as activity”. If I can get my son involved in making snack that he later eats, I’ve given him a meaningful activity that frees me up to focus on my other children. Provide your child with crackers, a butter knife, and a small amount of jelly, hummus, or other dip in a pinch bowl and let her at it. Bonus points if she makes snack for you and/or siblings.
5. Making breakfast for himself
Your child can easily pour a bowl of cereal for himself if you make the components manageable. Provide a small amount of milk in a child-sized pitcher (e.g. liquid measuring cup) and a serving size of cereal in a measuring cup. Let your child combine. This simple meal is a stepping stone to larger meals as his skills grow. Your child will feel very proud of himself for making his own meal!
How does your child help you in the kitchen? Has this list encouraged you to try something new?
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