Cooking with kids can be fun, but also intimidating. Here are my best tips for making time in the kitchen with kids stress-free and enjoyable!
My kids love to help me in the kitchen. Since they are young (1.5 and 4) I wouldn’t say it’s particularly helpful, but it is fun to get to share my love of preparing food with them and get them excited about it too.
At first glance cooking with a toddler sounds like a big hassle and an even bigger mess. While both of those things can be true, it’s not always the case. As someone who loves cookbooks, is obsessed with her instant pot and in general spends a lot of time in the kitchen (both with and without my kids), I assure you it can be fun and rewarding activity for you and the kids. If the idea of cooking with your littles sound like something you’d like to do, but you aren’t sure where to begin, this is for you.
Why Include Your Kids?
You may be wondering why you should even bother bringing your kids into the kitchen. Let’s start with the obvious – it’s a really great way to spend time with them. Personally, I’m not fond of traditional methods of playing with my kids (I wrote all about that here), but cooking with them is something I genuinely love. My kids are quite curious and like when they get to help – even with the smallest of tasks, so cooking tends to check both of those boxes. Not to mention the kitchen is full of so many textures, smells and sounds, which makes cooking a great sensory activity. They also learn things like how to listen and directions, completing tasks in a certain order, reading recipes and even a little math. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found is that it makes my kids a little less picky. When they take the time to help prepare the food, they are usually even more excited to eat it and show off their work.
My Secrets For Success
Cooking with the kids for the first time can be a little intimidating but here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Embrace the mess. Repeat after me: “Cooking with my kids will be messy”. There is no way around it. Flour will be everywhere, things will get spilled, stuff will get sticky – it’s just part of the program. The important thing is to be prepared for it and stay chill about the mess (and maybe be ready with a change of clothes for after).
- Know it will take forever. Go into it knowing that whatever you guys make, it will take a while – and I mean significantly longer than it would if you did it solo. Be ready for things to move at a slower pace. Having your kids help make dinner when you need it on the table in less than 30 minutes is just setting yourself up for failure.
- Make sure your head is in the game. Don’t bring them in to help on days where your patience is running thin or you’re on a time crunch. Instead tackle it when you have a leisurely afternoon at home or you’re stuck inside on a rainy day (because who doesn’t love rainy day baking?)
- Be clear on the rules. Everyone will have different rules in their kitchen, but it’s important to establish them early on – especially those related to safety. Some rules we have in my kitchen when cooking together are things like:
- Washing our hands – before we start, if we touch something that isn’t for cooking and if they are messy. I’ve got a couple of great hand washers.
- No fingers in our mouths – this one is hard for my little ones so we end up washing our hands pretty frequently.
- Wait for directions – this one is partially for safety and partially because I’ve had some crazy things go into cookie dough while baking with my toddler
- Don’t touch Mom’s knife – for obvious reasons they aren’t allowed to touch the big knives
- Include them in the cleanup. Cooking isn’t just about the preparation, there’s also a ton of clean up. If the kids fling flour onto the floor, you bet they are helping wipe it up it up when we are done. Same goes for spills. Having towels close by before you start is a huge help.
- Give them age appropriate tasks. This will vary hugely based on age and skill, but making sure they have a task that is doable and fun is the key. When they start off they might make a huge mess when stirring flour in a bowl or pouring ingredients, but the more they do it they will get better and more confident. I recommend starting with small easy tasks and adding more on as they perfect those. My 4 year old loves trying to crack eggs and gets better each time we do it.
- Start them early. Don’t be afraid to bring your toddler into the kitchen with you – there is always some task they can help with (even if it’s hand over hand pouring and mixing). I got both of my kids started with helping between 12-18 months. And on the flip side, it’s never too late to get them involved, so don’t shy away if you have older kids too.
- Keep it fun. This might be the most import tip! It should be an enjoyable experience for everyone. Let the kids help decide what to make, let them sneak a chocolate chip or two, put on some music, laugh a little and have a good time!