Involve your kids in the simple joys of preparing food for themselves and the family at an early age and you’ll instill a love and appreciation of cooking that will last a lifetime.
Here are 6 basic ideas to keep in mind when you invite your kids to cook in the kitchen:
Tip #1: Always teach kitchen safety first. Use age-appropriate guidelines to explain the importance of handling sharp knives and utensils, how to safely operate a hot stove and other appliances, such as a food processor, blender, or microwave. Stress kitchen hygiene and the importance of washing hands, countertops, and cutting boards that may have traces of poultry, eggs, and other bacteria-laden residue.
Tip #2: Cook with your children when you have time to be patient, not when you’re in a rush to get to a dinner meeting. You want your kids to associate family cooking with positive feelings, not with anxiety and impatience.
Tip #3: Turn the kitchen into a classroom. What makes a cake rise? How many quarter cups are in a whole cup? What’s the fourth step in that recipe? Math, reading, science – it’s all in the kitchen. Make dinner prep a part of your daily routine with no guilt that it’s stealing time from homework.
Tip #4: Get your younger children involved in making dinner. Give them simple tasks that they can accomplish independently, such as:
- Cutting butter with a dull knife
- Pouring flour and other ingredients from the measuring cup into a bowl
- Setting the table with silverware and plates
- Stirring (and licking) the batter – unless it contains raw eggs, in which case do not let your child eat it
- Cracking eggs (some parents don’t like to let kids do this but the inevitable shell is easy to fish out and egg cracking is a great job for a child of any age)
Tip #5: Think outside the baking pan. Instead of making a big pan of lasagna or casserole, have the kids assemble mini portions in ramekins. This way, they can control the amount of cheese, meat, and vegetables in their own portions. Other ideas for mini meals: individual pizzas with custom toppings, calzones in muffin pans, and salads in ice cream cones.
Tip #6: Let your child plan a full menu. Most of us hear our kids complain that they don’t like what we’re serving for dinner. Once you get your kids involved in the kitchen, let them plan an entire meal from start to finish by themselves, including going grocery shopping for the ingredients with you. You can be available on a consulting basis during the entire process, but this will allow their creative juices to flow and to gain some independence in the process. Oh, and you’ll get a yummy meal out of the deal as well!