Cooking With Kids: Tips and Tricks

Kids in the Kitchen“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!

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11 Responses to Cooking With Kids: Tips and Tricks

  1. Jane says:

    I have great memories of helping my mom in the kitchen and want my kids to have the same. I have to be honest and say that sometimes I ask them to play elsewhere so I can just get the meal done though.

  2. mrs darling says:

    Yep, its hard to have the kids in the kitchen but oh so worth it in terms of investment in their little lives.

    Great points you’ve listed there.

  3. Tammy L says:

    What a great, encouraging post! Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. Grace says:

    I had great memories in the kitchen too — and I started cooking on my own since I was 10. I would love my daughter helping in the kitchen but right now (at nearly 4) she is not yet up to it. Maybe next year.

  5. Jen says:

    Jane, how great to have those cooking memories! And I have to ask the kids to play elsewhere sometimes, too. That’s just the reality of life with little ones and I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    Mrs. Darling, thank you – it’s the long term investment I’m after. I’m realizing something about food and the power of creating something together with your children…

    Tammy L, thank you! I do hope someone is encouraged to spend more kitchen time with their kids after reading this.

    Grace, you’re a lucky gal! I remember reading on your blog that you can cook 4 meals at once with ease; you must have started that ability as a little one, so you get to be my poster girl! :-) Cooking on your own at 10 is pretty amazing!

  6. e-Mom says:

    Wonderful thoughts!

    A lot of very good learning goes on in the kitchen. I’ve had to grit my teeth many times, after my daughter did her “thing” in there… what a mess! BUT, she went on to a nice summer prep-cook job on small cruise ship locally (San Juan Islands). You just never know where your efforts as a Mom will lead!

  7. Jen says:

    e-Mom, I can relate to the gritting of the teeth! I’ve about ground them down to nothing. :-) Oooh, the San Juan Islands! Hopefully our next vacation is there. Almost went last year, but went to Victoria, B.C. instead.

  8. mandi says:

    Great tips! I wholeheartedly agree – it seems so easy when you list them like this but it took a lot of trial and error for us to figure these things out! ( : My daughter who is almost 10 is learning to make bread – I have told her that when she masters it then she will become official bread baker for our family. Letting them be creative in some areas has been good for us – my daughter made up a fruit salad recipe that is my new favorite! We make it often. ( : My kids have been inspired by Alton Brown from his show Good Eats! Warning though – this is a great show but occasionally the fact that it is not written from a Biblical worldview comes shining through in the content and in the history presented. ) :

    Warmly,
    Mandi

  9. Jen says:

    Mandi, I have a little 6 yr old girl who I’m sure is destined to be the bread-maker of my family. She loves to be in the kitchen, she loves to create new dishes, and she loves to eat!

  10. MamaArcher says:

    This is a great list! I actually popped over for your T13 but am not a sports far so I thought I would comment on another post!
    Have a great weekend!!

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