19 Oct Kids in the Kitchen: 7 Tips for Training Little Cooks
If you read my post about the chore charts I created for my girls this fall, you may have noticed that my older two daughters asked to help with cooking.
In an effort to fan this useful and creative flame, I assigned them each a few meals a week to make. When I said they could cook, this is what I mean: My older girls are 5 and 7 years old, not 10 and 13. Therefore, what this does not yet mean is that I tell them where the ingredients and recipe are located and plop down on the couch with a book.
My participation is required in a very active role as I teach them how to work with fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, spices, and sauces.
My goals in this are simple:
1) By carving out weekly time to train them in cooking, they will grow more confident each week in their knowledge of food preparation and ability to cook.
2) This will eventually empower them to regularly swap roles with me in the kitchen.
3.) They will become independent and competent cooks and I will have more down time!! (No, I am NOT kidding, this is one very favorable aspect of mentoring an apprentice).
It is proven that if you want to encourage children in learning something, it is to your advantage to make it an enjoyable experience for them.
What this does not mean: that we make cupcakes every day 😉
What this does mean: that we sometimes make cupcakes 😉
Seriously though, here are some pretty basic strategies I have come up with to make learning the art of cooking a blast (or as fun as possible, when chopping onions…)
1. Turn on the music! – who doesn’t love listening to music while doing mindless work? When cooking or cleaning, music is often cranked up in our house. I have found this gets them excited and builds a positive environment.
2. Let them practice being independent cooks – Don’t hover!! I know, it can be hard. Now, give this a try – give your child a chance to do some prep-work or aspects of the meal independently, depending on their ability.
For the littlest ones, this can be as simple as teaching them to properly crack an egg or measure a cup of flour.
For the bigger kids, this may include elements such as sifting, chopping, blending, sautéing, pouring and more.
3. Prepare yourself for messes! As a Type A personality, I have to give myself a mental pep-talk at times (“it’s okay if flour spills everywhere or we lose a couple of eggs“). As with every single aspect of motherhood, let go of perfection. It makes life better for everyone, hands down.
4. Leave plenty of time for training – don’t plan to involve your child in cooking on a day when you are already pressed for time, the baby is screaming, and you are all starving. You gotta cut those onions like a hibachi chef, sauté that chicken like a boss, and just get dinner on the table for the hungry masses pronto.
Instead, plan to let them help with dinner (or breakfast) when you aren’t as pressed for time. You won’t feel the urge (as much) to take over and curtail their efforts or chastise them for making a big mess when you need to be out the door.
5. Use kid-friendly recipes – this is not the time to pull out the 20-ingredient recipes that have non-kid-friendly ingredients (truffle or reduction, anyone?) unless your kids are already older and more advanced. When kids are in the kitchen, choose recipes that they can wrap their brains around and don’t seem too daunting. Choose recipes that require the use of kitchen utensils you want them to become more comfortable using.
While there are lots of kids recipe books out there (just google it or do a quick Amazon search), I have personally used regular cookbooks when cooking with the kids. One of my favorites called Simply in Season uses simple, seasonal ingredients to make healthy, easy, and delicious meals:
6. Consider getting some fun kid-friendly aprons and/or cookware: I am not a seamstress yet (on my list of life goals for this season!!) so I bought some cute kid-sized aprons online and ironed on my girls names. This was my Christmas present to them a few years ago and they loved it! This year for her birthday, my five year old asked for her own “cooking kit” and some of her relatives purchased one for her by Curious Chef. It contains smaller cooking utensils that are easier for small hands to handle. One thing I personally love about the kit is the rubber knife that allows for safe cutting and chopping practice.
7. Praise their efforts – when your child works hard to help make a meal, heap on the encouragement just like hot mashed potatoes slathered with butter (ok, now I’m getting hungry!) Ask yourself a simple question: Which hobbies or interests have you stuck with in life? The ones where you received some encouragement, right?
I hope these tips encourage you that you can indeed say “Yes!” more often when your child says, “Mom, can I help you cook?” And hopefully you won’t end up with your eggs fried in the burner like we did!
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