How to cook with kids
Updated: Jul 10, 2018
Usually around 6pm the phrase "get out of my kitchen!" comes hurtling out of my mouth over and over. Sharp knives moving quickly lead to sharp expressions. Oil bubbling in the cast iron forces me to herd my daughters out of my way. It is for their safety and for my sanity.
However, If I slow down a little there are always safe jobs to assign my children so they feel like they are a part of the project. Kids are so fascinated by what is happening on the counter top. They want to smell, touch, and taste all the ingredients being used. The fresh herbs, the spices, the vibrant colors of vegetables. They are captivated by the process of taking simple ingredients and turning them into a delicious meal. It is also fascinating how frustrating it is to try and do that with four little hands flying around my kitchen. Here are a few techniques I've established over the years that allow for my girls to safely participate in meal preparations:
1. Have dough to play with:
If dough isn't being used for the meal, it is nice to have some on hand that they can play with. It makes them feel included. If life is too busy to always have edible bread dough, just use play doh. Give them a pretend recipe to follow and some of your kitchen utensils so they feel like they are helping.
If dough (bread, pasta, batter, etc) is being used for the meal give them a little to play with on their own.
You can always just give them some flour (and water if you dare) in a large plastic container to play with. Add scoops and they will be distracted for at least 20 minutes.
2. Sort out the ingredients into prep-bowls:
I use Mario Batali's prep-bowls for measuring out all my spices or sauces. Putting all the correctly measured ingredients into several different bowls really helps when cooking with kids. This way they can dump the bowls into whatever you are making without accidentally dumping a whole container of salt into your food.
3. Play a sensory game:
My kids like to smell all the spices and herbs I use. You can have them guess ingredients by having them smell the whole spice or herb, then have them smell the ground up spices or smashed up herbs. You could even have them taste them as well, but I'd do this with caution.
4. Play a sorting game:
If using many different kinds of vegetables or fruits, have your kids sort them into color categories. Vegetables and fruits can all be organized by color. Not only will you be helping them with the ability to sort, you will also be helping them identify many different kinds of fruits and vegetables. If your kids get to "play" with the produce before cooking it they will be much more likely to actually eat it.
(I like this one because it also encourages me to use a variety of colors in my food.)
5. Pour yourself a glass of wine:
Dinner will take longer than it would if your kids were watching screens, but your children will hopefully be happier and healthier in the long run.
If you have tried and true ways of cooking with your kids, send me an email with your methods and I'll add them to the list.
Here is a list of articles about the benefits of cooking with your children:
*photos taken by Sharon Wai Photography