Need some assistance in the kitchen? Look no further than your own offspring.
Inviting your kids into the kitchen is a great way to not only score some help for yourself but also give kids a sense for how food is transformed from the stuff on the grocery store shelves, and in your pantry and fridge, to the dishes on the table. Here are our best tips for taking advantage of your personal mini-sous-chefs.
Match the task to the kid. If your son hangs around when you make cookies or muffins, let him help you bake. If your daughter doesn’t want to touch meat, put her on veggie tasks. Have an active or easily distracted child? Safety issues will be even more important. Meanwhile, your serious bookworm kid may be adept at reading recipes and gathering ingredients. You’ll have greater success with getting your children to help in the kitchen if you align their culinary penchants with tasks that’ll most appeal to them, says Phyllis Grant, a former chef who blogs about cooking with kids at Dash and Bella.
Empower them. Kids can do a whole lot more than we think; even a 2-year-old can learn to peel a carrot, Grant says. Get their senses involved: let them taste a piece of celery you’ve chopped for soup or try a type of cheese they normally never have, or give them some dough to play with and shape. These activities build familiarity and competency in the kitchen.
Establish rules. “From a very early age, my kids had clear rules about the kitchen,” says Grant. It’s important not just to share the rules with the kids, she adds, but it also helps to write them down for regular reference. For example: Wash hands before any cooking or prep task. Put lids back on spice jars as soon as you’re finished using them. Discuss what items go in the dishwasher versus which must be hand-washed. Explain safety rules like keeping pot handles turned away from the edge of the stove.
Let it go. If you’ve avoided asking for kitchen help from your kids, it may be because you’re reluctant to relinquish control—for fear of mess or just because you have your routine down pat. Try your best to release your hold and quit expecting perfection. Sure, you might lose an egg or two or have a pile of flour to clean up, but you’re teaching skills that will stay with your kids for life. Bonus: eventually they can learn how to take care of their own messes.
Ready to invite your kids into the kitchen? Start with these age-appropriate tasks.
Toddlers and preschoolers can spin a salad or use a butter knife to cut food that has some give, such as a block of cheese, says Grant.
Later try washing produce in the sink or learning to peel a carrot (be sure to supervise when sharp tools are in use).
Grade-schoolers can measure ingredients. Reinforce math skills by trusting your kids with adding 2 teaspoons of salt or a cup and a half of sugar to a bowl.
Later try prep skills, such as whisking, stirring, and chopping. Grant suggests having your child put her hands over yours while you use a whisk to beat eggs or cream, for example, so she can holding your hands over your child’s as she beats eggs or cream so she can “feel” how it works.
Tweens and teens can learn proper and safe knife technique.
Later try menu planning. When kids are part of the decision-making process, they feel more involved and are more likely to eat what’s cooked, Grant says. Have them look for recipes in cookbooks or online, or take them to the grocery store with you to see what inspires them. “Believe it or not, kids can get really excited by a big pile of avocados,” says Grant.