Tips to Know When Cooking With Kids

In my previous post, I explained the significant and real benefits that meal preparation has for our children as well as our family. In this post, I share simple and real tips, from utensils that can be used to small changes that can be made in the dinnertime routine. My hope is that these ideas serve as a starting point for you and your family.

Tips to Get Children Cooking in the Kitchen

Children of every age can be involved in mealtime preparation. I’ve seen toddlers to teenagers help in the kitchen. We just need to have a prepared kitchen environment and give clear age-appropriate tasks when working with our children. These two things will set children up for success so mealtime preparation is fun and enjoyable (for both children and adults).

Below are some of my favorite tips when working with children in the kitchen. I've included a handful of linked examples.

Physical Set Up and Educational Opportunities

  • For young children, we can have a step stool or high-rise step stool with railings on each side so our children can work on the counter next to us. Children can also have their own child-sized table and chair (you can saw the legs off the chairs and tables for toddlers) in the kitchen where they can do their meal prep work. It can doubly serve as a snack table.

  • It’s important that tools are child-sized and appropriate for their level of development. For example, a toddler can use a butter knife to spread cream cheese on crackers. A six year old can use a semi sharp and child-sized knife to cut the veggies. As children become fluent with a certain utensil, you can upgrade to a more sophisticated utensil (example, from soft knife to sharper knife).

  • Have a map of the world or globe handy as well as an age appropriate encyclopedia. Children love associating food with different cultures and countries. They love looking up and reading about different countries and items of food. A child friendly encyclopedia is a great way to encourage research as well as reading.

  • Grow herbs or leafy greens with your children. Even those of us lacking a green thumb can successfully grow herbs or greens like kale that don’t require much sunlight or attention. Children love taking care of plants and watching the weekly growth. For those with gardens, children can grow vegetables and fruits in a garden, learning about the whole life cycle and process. They especially enjoy tasting the product of their work.

Communication and Expectations

  • During the preparation, we need to clearly explain to our children if something is hot or something is sharp, etc. We explain it for their safety and not from a place of fear. For example, you can say, “This is a knife for cutting vegetables. The edge is very sharp so we don’t touch that part (pointing to the sharp end). We can hold it from here (and then show them how to hold it and chop).” Help acquaint them with the cooking environment. Children like adults, need little reminders. Young children also thrive off demonstrations. It’s very helpful when we show our children slowly with actions. Demonstrate how to cut the vegetables without explaining so they watch your hands and not your mouth.

  • It’s helpful, especially for older children, when we explain what we are making for the meal and briefly explain each step in the recipe (share the big picture and touch on the small steps to get there). Before each step, you can briefly explain what you are about to do. In this way, we are helping to create a sequence for our children that they will eventually repeat solo. Some children can help with each step while others (like our toddlers) may be in charge of just a couple steps while you make the majority of the meal.

  • Give children more responsibility depending on their level/age. Toddlers can even help set the table by carrying over items one at a time whereas an older child may help prepare the whole meal, set the table and even write name cards for the different dishes or objects on the table. Get creative!

Adult Expectations and Reminders

  • Allot enough time to have children participate. It’s important that there is enough time for children to help even if they are helping with one task. We don’t like being rushed and they really don’t like being rushed (and they make sure to let us know this).

  • We must accept that our meals may not look as beautiful as if we made them by ourselves. But the beauty will be in the fact that our children participated in making a meal for our family. This is an especially important tip for those parents who are more particular. We must remember that our children are watching us and our expressions. If we ever show disappointment or that we are not satisfied with their work, game over. Children are smart and will not want to work with us if they feel we are judging their work. I have seen this happen between parents and children and have sadly been an adult that has pushed a child away from a work he was enjoying. If we display disappointment or too much excitement around our children’s work, they may not be so keen to continue that work.

  • When possible, include your children in both the preparation and choice of snacks and meals.

  • Thank your child. Children, like adults, thrive off purposeful work and appreciation. We feel better when we work with purpose, know the tangible goal of our actions and are acknowledged.

  • Make sure to have fun and enjoy the process! Children learn how to behave by watching us. Model that cooking and taking care of your family is fun and important work.

Coming next week are some of my favorite child friendly recipes to help you get started. Keep an eye out for them!

I hope that you found this post helpful. I would love to hear from you. What tips work best for you in your kitchen?

Keep well, S