Finding the time and energy to cook with my kids in the kitchen is nearly impossible. We are so busy that the 30 minutes I need to prepare a meal usually happens during our afternoon ‘technology time’. I work uninterrupted and my kids gladly play Crossy Road or watch Paw Patrol. It’s a win-win situation, and probably one of my favorite parts of the day because QUIET.
But as I got to thinking, I realized that my love of food and cooking developed in the kitchen when I was helping my Mother cook and bake. (I’m really good at making myself feel guilty about it…) But seriously, if I never give my children the opportunities to even help, then how are they going to learn anything about anything in the kitchen?
The best thing I have found to work is choosing a non-busy, non-stressful time in my day to have one or two ‘helpers’ in the kitchen to work on one thing or another. While they can’t do everything, there is always something they can do. Here are the different ways I’ve incorporated my kids in the kitchen with me. Finding jobs that are age appropriate is the name of the game!
Chopping fruits or vegetables with kid knives.
These are the kiddie knives we have and use. They are plastic, dishwasher safe and totally kid friendly. I also have all plastic cutting boards for the exact same reason. I only keep wooden cutting boards for displaying food because I got tired of the upkeep. Throw a clean, folded kitchen towel under the cutting board for more stability. Cucumber, carrot, celery, baby tomatoes, grapes, apple, banana are all great things to chop up. I love letting Blake make a ‘fruit salad’ by giving him a few fruits to chop up and put into a bowl to eat with his lunch. Keep in mind I’m not giving him the entire apple, banana, or kiwi. More like half a banana for him to peel and slice, a kiwi already halved or a chunk of apple with the seeds already removed.
If you have older children who can handle a sharper knife, I’d recommend using a smaller kitchen knife like the adults use. My daughter who is 9 much prefers this knife that we own because it slices much easier than the plastic one and is easy to handle for her smaller hands because it’s not too big. A great opportunity to teach how to not slice your finger off.
Measuring, leveling or stirring ingredients.
Whether you’re making cookies or salad, there is always something to measure or stir. If you’re worried about them measuring over the big bowl you’re working with, give them smaller (dishwasher safe) bowls or containers. I love love love these little prep bowls and these mini spatulas. Also measuring spoons that are attached to each other make my heart pitter patter in a way I never knew until I got them. My kids LOVED to play with my other set that were not attached and I’ve magically lost them all…hence the attached kind.
Most of the time with my little little guy, I’ll measure everything for him (or do it hand over hand if he’s feeling particularly independent) and have him pour it in. Cracking eggs is another ‘big job’ that my 5 year old feels brave enough to try. As long as it’s into a separate bowl, I’m fine with him trying.
Whether this is bread dough, pie dough or homemade play doh, kneading it or playing with it is typically very fun for kids to do. Getting messy is generally a fun thing for them, so I like to pinch off smaller pieces of dough for them to ‘knead’ on their own while the remainder stays under my watch and care. I don’t like Silpats very much for baking because they are a pain to clean, but Roul ‘Pats are well worth the hassle. They keep my counters clean and make my life a little easier when working with kids. Roul ‘Pats are nonstick silicone mats meant for doughs and pastry, but I use them for anything I have to knead or work with on the counter. I’ll even have this out for playdoh. It’s a great product.
Rolling dough for fun or to keep little hands busy
Sometimes if I have extra pie dough after I’ve finished baking, or even a refrigerated dough (like canned biscuits), I’ll bring out the rolling pin and a few ingredients for them to work with and flatten. I remember when I was pregnant with Blake (and SO tired!) I’d let Brooke play with ‘dough’: leftover bread dough or some sacrificial play doh that could get flour, water, sugar or even sprinkles rolled in. It was hours of messy fun for her, but since everything was mostly contained on the Roul’ Pat, it made clean up pretty easy.
For the older kids
Stir hot things, handle chicken or squish raw meat together for a meatloaf, crack and separate eggs, flip pancakes for crepes, decorate cookies, use a handheld or stand mixer, stir frosting and more. If they don’t want to participate in any way, say “you only have to help for X minutes” and set a timer. In our family, the number of minutes corresponds to age. Brooke is 9 minutes or helping, Blake is 5 minutes and Eddie….well, usually his attention span is gone after 30 seconds but we try our best.
When in doubt, pull up a step stool (this is the one I have…love it!)or chair and have them practice spreading peanut butter on toast. Their participation doesn’t have to be fancy or drawn out. The purpose is to get your kids a little more comfortable performing little tasks so they can become confident little sous chefs.
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