Cooking with Kids can be rewarding, fun, educational, and let’s be honest just plain frustrating. The experience is never what you imagined it might be, and that’s ok. As parents we all think up these scenarios that we want as memories with our kids. Then we pray they work out. If you keep trying, sometimes they do.
I am a Chef who has run large professional kitchens, but then stepped back to raise the kids a few years ago. Trying to cook with my own kids I have learned my lessons over and over again. Really, the biggest lesson to be learned is expectation management. But, getting your kids into the kitchen can definitely make for some proud parent moments. Hopefully these tips will make your next experience cooking with kids more successful and get you closer to the fantasy that your mind has come up with.
My Top 9 Tips for Cooking with Kids
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1. Let your child pick the recipe.
When cooking with kids, allowing them to choose the recipe totally elevates their experience with you in the kitchen. Most notably, the child you’re cooking with will be invested in the finished outcome of the dish and feel really excited to see the entire process through. I suggest grabbing a cookbook filled with pictures or finding a visual rich food website; then let the child explore and choose what they’d like to make. This process can get a little overwhelming, so you might want to narrow it down to a certain category, for example, do an appetizer one week and a main dish the next. This way the child takes ownership and looks forward to future kitchen sessions.
Once the recipe is chosen, you can even take the child on a lunch date and order the dish you plan on making for future comparison. When your child later hears that they made it better than the Chef, they will beam with pride. You should definitely tell them they made it better, even if they didn’t. But you already knew that.
This may seem like you are spoiling or bribing your kids to fulfill some parent goal of your own. Well that’s exactly what you are doing. But trust me, it works. Especially if you are not making cookies, treats, or special desserts.
If you’d rather default to a tried and true recipe to use when introducing your kids to the kitchen, go for these chocolate chip cookies. Yes, the kids will want to eat them all, but tip #8 will help with managing sugar!
I post all of my recipes as downloadable pdfs, so families can easily print them off and use them without fear of damaging a tablet, cookbook, or grandma’s heirloom recipe cards when things get messy.
2. Make it an event. Every aspect of it. Seriously.
If cooking with kids is something you really want to be part of your family life, then incorporating it into your routine is important. You can start in small doses! If you’ve already got a plan for dinner, ask your child if they want to make it together. If they say yes, game on! Carve out a few extra minutes to let them help, and show your child that this time together is truly something special.
I learned this from wife, who does an amazing job of making small everyday events seem extraordinary, by emphasizing the details. Maybe your child has a special blue knife that only they get to chop with, or each child has a specific apron that they like to wear when they cook, or you make a special playlist of music just for cooking time. This is an often overlooked opportunity to give one on one attention to a child that doesn’t cost anything (aside from the grocery bill). Use each meal that they help with as an opportunity to focus on one new cooking skill; when you’re short on time or patience, this allows them to step in and out of the meal prep and still walk away with a fun new skill.
Back to tip #1: if the child has chosen the recipe, have them write a shopping list and accompany you to the grocery store. Give them time to find all of the ingredients for their recipe. Heck, tell them they can choose a few extra things to put in the cart, if that’s what it takes to get them excited!
For a more immersive experience, head to a farmers market for produce, a butcher shop for meat, or a specialty store for a “unique” ingredient. In my experience, even the food isle at TJ Max counts as specialty.
3. Bring things down to their level
It took me many failed cooking with kids attempts to realize that I needed to stop using step stools and just use lower work spaces. This tip seems simple enough, but it’s easily missed.
If you were asked to cook dinner from the limited mobility of standing on a stool, I am guessing you would have a hard time. I found that using the kids playroom table was much easier to use as a work surface. This simple adjustment has made cooking with kids so much easier in our home. If you don’t have a small table, try using a bench or even a chair as a work surface for your little one.
4. If you’re a newbie to cooking with kids, keep it one on one.
Two kids is too many cooks in the kitchen. After all, we want this experience to be enjoyable. Your little ones will likely fight over just about everything, from who gets to crack the egg to who gets to mix, and before you know it, raw chicken is flying around the kitchen. To avoid the chaos, gain that one on one experience before adding more kids to the mix.
Once your older child becomes a junior chef, let them introduce your next future foodie into the kitchen. But, be sure to revisit tip #1 with each new chef in the kitchen; the younger ones also want to take pride in their own creations.
I will admit though, having a friend of your child help as part of play date can be beneficial. Especially if your child is high maintenance. For some reason, cooking with two kids who are not siblings is just plain easier sometimes.
5. Allow them to do something Dangerous, within reason.
Kitchens are full of danger, which makes them intriguing. When cooking with kids, they always want to do something dangerous. Whether it is cutting with a knife, turning on a grill, or using a stand mixer there is danger all around! Since you are working one on one, this is a perfect time to teach proper safety precautions.
Obviously take your child’s age and maturity into consideration. I allow my three year old to crack eggs or use a butter knife to cube butter. We really live on the edge with him. But, my ten year old gets to use one of my special chef knives. She has learned to curl her fingers back and use them as a guide. She knows it’s not a toy and that it is crazy sharp. She also knows that they need to be stored out of the 3 year old’s reach and put away properly because she has seen first hand what it can do.
Monitoring what they do is of the upmost importance. But, allowing your child to do something that is typically off limits is exciting for them.
6 Have them do the Measuring, Cutting, Tasting, Etc.
Really based on your child’s age, let them run the show as much as possible. Teach the skills, but do not be the one who does the majority of the work.
I will often have extra ingredients of whatever we are using. This way none of my work makes it into the dish. For example. Say we are cutting onions. I will demo cutting an onion, but my onion is being stored away for another recipe. Their onion is the one that makes it into the soup. As much of the final dish that can be their work, the better.
One of the most important steps in cooking is tasting your food during the process. Have your child be in charge of tasting when cooking with kids. Let their pallet me the decider of more salt or pepper. This step is simple, but your child will really enjoy being the one who makes the decisions on whether the food tastes good enough to serve.
7. Be Patient and accepting- if they loose interest, its ok.
One of most common situations when I am cooking with kids, is they just lose interest. They just want to be done or their attention span is exhausted. There is no need to force your child to continue. If you do, they will likely be resistant to wanting to cook with you in the future. 30
What works for me is to have them finish the step we are on and then let them take a break. Often when it is time to take something out of the oven or get ready to serve and present the food, they are more than willing to jump back into the process. If you focus on the positives of what they did and give them praise for their efforts, you are one step closer to having a kid who wants to cook with you.
8. Share their creation with others. Either in person or use social media.
Your child will likely be very proud of what they cooked. With a little recognition from others, you are one step closer to having a cooking partner. There are plenty of ways to share your child’s creation.
The easiest way is to have other family members enjoy it. Hearing Mom or Dad’s most food network worthy “yums” while making a tasting face will your child so proud.
When we make a larger batch of cookies, we will sometimes give some out to our neighbors. This is great because your child is proud, you made a memory, and you offloaded the excess sugar. As a bonus, your neighbors will likely be more forgiving of whatever damages your child does to their property.
If in person sharing is not an option, post it on your social media. If you have a tween, let them take the pics, and help you caption it. They know what likes are, and they are just as excited to receive them as you are. Sure there will be haters who think you are just parent bragging. But you know what, you deserve to brag about it. Being a parent is hard and everything your kid does is amazing.
9. Always be open to their help
For me this is the hardest one, but also maybe to most important to remember. Once your child has gotten the cooking bug, actually let them help you. Whenever the situation arises. Regardless. You won’t see it coming, and it will seem inconvenient at the time. Because just that’s the way kids are.
Likely it will be when you are just trying to get dinner on the table, and you really don’t want anybody in your way. That is the day your child will decide they finally want to help you in the kitchen. These are the moments you need to realize that you asked for this. So take a deep breath, slow it down, and enjoy the help. They are only little for so long.
Hopefully these tips for cooking with kids will be helpful to you in your own home. If you have any tips of your own, please comment! I am always looking for simple ways to get my kids more involved in our kitchen.
Disclaimer: Kitchens are Potentially Dangerous Places, especially for Children. Always take any necessary Safety Precautions. This article is intended to be informational and used for entertainment. The information in the article is in no way a substitute for proper judgement.