Cooking as a family is one of our favorite things to do in the McDermott household. Family time is precious, and there’s nothing this foodie family would rather do together than create a delicious meal.
Tori and I love the time to bond with our mini chefs, but the benefits go beyond that. Time in the kitchen cultivates kids’ creativity, and develops a real sense of responsibility. We do our best to use the time to teach them about where our food comes from, and why healthy eating matters. Seeing their faces light up as they master a new culinary skill or learn something crazy (potatoes grow in the ground, woah!) never gets old.
I’ve also found that cooking with our kids makes them more likely to eat healthy or exotic foods. They feel a real sense of pride and ownership when they’ve chipped in, and the whole process is a win-win-win.
You might be thinking, “cooking with my kids is more effort than its worth,” but I’ve got some tips to share that will make it doable and enjoyable for all parties involved.
1. Choose the menu together
Kids are more eager to help—and more likely to eat what’s made—when they feel like they’re a part of the menu selection. We play a game at the grocery store. One child gets to pick a piece of produce and a protein. Then we build a menu and recipes around those choices. Each child gets a turn. Liam gets Monday, Stella gets Wednesday, Hattie get Friday and Finn gets the weekend if he’s up for the task.
2. Prepare a kids’ cooking station
Prep work is a key component of a kid-proof kitchen. Gather all the tools and ingredients you need, then create a safe kids’ cooking station away from the heat, on a clean flat surface.
3. Assign tasks by age
Once everything’s prepped and ready to go, begin by assigning each child a unique task. Their assignment should be dependent on age and skillset. Here are some general guidelines and ideas:
Very young kids can rinse of vegetables; shred lettuce; pick herb leaves off their stem; sprinkle salt and pepper; whisk together ingredients; or knead dough.
Slightly older kids (think 4 – 8) can grate cheese; peel potatoes; grease pans; rinse grains; read recipes; and form patties.
Older kids (8 and up) might be ready to pound chicken, slice bread, wash dishes, or use a pizza cutter or can opener. Each child will be different, but they may also be able to handle basic knife skills as well (with supervision, of course).
Regardless of your child’s age, give them as much responsibility as possible. I have been repeatedly surprised at how much my kids can do in the kitchen with just a little guidance.
The messier and more tactile the task, the better. One example: our kids love separating eggs. They can crack them open and get their hands all gooey swapping the yolk back and forth to each hand until all of the white falls away. Just make sure to set up a couple bowls underneath if you are saving both the yolk and the whites, and don’t forget to wash those hands after!
4. Embrace the mess
No matter how much you prep, there’s going to be a mess. Accept this early on. The pros of having your kids in the kitchen far outweigh the cons. Plus, it’s usually nothing a few extra (rolls) of paper towels can’t fix.
5. Taste test
Be sure to involve your kids in one of the best parts of the culinary process: taste testing. They’ll feel a sense of pride if you value their opinion—and sneaky bites just taste better than plated food… especially if you’re under the age of ten.
6. Clean together
Finally, it’s important to teach your kids that kitchen responsibilities don’t end when dinner is plated. Enroll your younger kids to help clear the table, while older siblings can help with dishes.
Any tips of your own to add? I’d love to hear ‘em.