“Mommy, can I help you?” is the phrase most often heard in my kitchen. Moms around the world know that a kid in the kitchen means the meal will take about three times the usual prep!
Well, at least that’s how it happens in my house with three and four year olds – and even the six and eight year olds.
It’s a great temptation to lock kids out of the kitchen, and there are pressing times when I have to say, “No, Mommy has to do this herself,” but I try to have a general rule that the children can always help. However, to maintain a level of sanity, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks which I’ll list below, for making the cooking time with kids an enjoyable and educational experience.
I’ve read several stories of great chefs who always point back to their childhood cooking with their mothers or grandmothers as a meaningful element in their later careers. I’ve also read accounts of women who know little about cooking because their mothers didn’t allow them in the kitchen.
There is a wonderful book called The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber that convinced me I needed to make a significant place in my time with the kids for food – from the picking out of the ingredients at the market, to the preparation of the meal, to the enjoyment of the taste. Abu-Jaber “comes from cooking,” and notes that how you cook and eat, and how you feed your neighbors defines who you are.
I’ve been remiss in keeping to that commitment, but especially as the holidays are welcomed, I want to renew that vision. Here’s my list to keep me on track with cooking with kids:
1. Plan ahead for the extra time required for the children to be helping.
2. Assign turns if you have multiple children, or chaos will ensue unless you’re WonderCook. With my four children, I allow up to two at a time helping, and the kids take turns. I’ve had meltdowns involving four chubby little hands all trying to stir the same batter.
3. Pick a few recipes for the children to work on consistently so they have it memorized. My children help make pancakes or muffins several mornings a week and know the recipes by heart and have such a joy in preparing something they know so well.
4. Teach as you go. “JoJo, show me which one is the tablespoon and which one is the teaspoon,” I say to my four year old, and she quickly picks the right one. Or I say, “JJ, what does the baking powder do for the recipe?”
5. Allow licking! My kids enjoy the licking of the spoons and bowl nearly as much (or more!) as eating.
6. Ask your older children to prepare simple meals for the family, and maybe come up with a schedule, like every Wednesday, your eight year old son makes lunch for the other children. I have a cookbook called Kids in the Kitchen with great recipes youngsters can make themselves.
7. Encourage creativity. If your six year old daughter does what mine did, and creates a concoction including milk, raisins, cinnamon, coconut, pepper, and cracker crumbs, at least oblige her by tasting her creation.
8. Safety first! Any parts of the cooking projects that involve sharp knives or burning hot ovens, Mom takes over. I am right by my children’s side as we prepare foods because they are all still very young.
Happy cooking with kids, and enjoy the upcoming holiday feasts!