By Katie Trudeau
Some of my best childhood memories revolve around the kitchen: decorating Christmas cookies, baking cakes for family members’ birthdays, and tasting fresh bread straight from the oven.
As a mother, I wanted to share my love of the culinary arts with my own children, but I quickly found that cooking with kids isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. There are more messes and more recipe slip-ups (wait, how many teaspoons did I put in?!) when kids are involved, but there are also more memories, more laughs, and more cozy moments (hygge, anyone?).
The key to making cooking with kids fun is preparation, preparation, preparation. Prepare your kitchen and your mind with these seven tips:
Teach kitchen skills first
Talk first, then do.
Before you start teaching any new skill to your child, explain the task first before jumping in. For a young child just learning the way around the kitchen, every task -- even dumping flour into a bowl-- must first be explained.
When my first son wanted to help bake cookies with me, I gladly handed over the measuring cup for him to hold as I poured flour into the cup. Before the measuring cup was filled to the top, he dumped it into the mixing bowl. Oops. That’s when I learned this valuable lesson. Talk first, then do.
A simple direction goes a long way in preventing recipe mishaps. After that, I quickly amended our task: “Yes, you may pour the flour into the bowl, but you have to wait until Mommy fills the flour up to the top of the measuring cup. Then wait for me to say it’s okay to pour it.”
Assign the smallest tasks first. The best jobs are the jobs that won’t compromise the integrity of the recipe.
- Pouring chocolate chips into the cookie dough batter
- Adding toppings to the sundae
- Pouring and mixing trail mix
- Plucking cilantro leaves off of the stems
- Peeling potatoes (use a kid-friendly veggie peeler though!)
- Opening butter packages
Contain messes with mise en place
Messes are inevitable when you’re cooking with kids, but you can prepare your kitchen to cut down on the messes. The French have a phrase “mise en place” which means “everything in its place.” To enact this practice, put out a large sheet tray when cooking. Lay all of your utensils on this tray and when you’re done using them, place them back on the tray. This cuts down on sloppy spoons or doughy spatulas getting your counters dirty.
I do this same thing but for veggie scapes; I call it the “garbage bowl.” When peeling potatoes or cutting onions, all of the bio waste goes in this bowl, and we dump it out after we are done cooking. This contains the mess but also prevents dozens of separate trips to the garbage can.
Measuring some ingredients is a good task for new helpers in the kitchen, but for your child’s first time cooking, consider pre-measuring all of the ingredients. This works well for baking cookies. Your child gets to do all the fun tasks like dumping and mixing without pausing for you to get or measure each ingredient.
Another tip: Having everything all ready to go prevents you from leaving your child’s side, which could be a safety hazard.
You know the saying: “It’s all fun until someone loses an eye.” The goal here is to keep it fun and keep the boo-boo’s at bay.
- Keep a first-aid kit in the kitchen
- Let your child stand on a stool -- not a chair; some stools for kids’ cooking even have a back to prevent falling backwards)
- Teach your child to always expect an oven or stove to be hot and show them how to use oven mitts (if age appropriate)
- Use training knives (when age appropriate) and demonstrate proper usage of any tool before your child uses a new tool for the first time
- Teach food safety tips as you cook
- Demonstrate proper cleaning; even if your child doesn’t wipe down a counter, explain why you do it and when you do it
Time your cooking session just right
Cooking is fun, but it’s also a life skill. Cooking with your child is a great way to teach them about nutrition, food safety, and different cultures’ culinary experiences. Time your cooking session for a time when your child is not overly tired or hungry.
Tell a story and set the mood
Remember cooking is fun! Share stories about your favorite foods or your family’s cultural outlooks on food. Last night, I made cherry cobbler, and I used a family recipe. I wanted my kids to understand the sentimental nature of the recipe so we talked about how I used to make cobbler with my mother when I was little.
What stories can you share with your kids? Do you plan tamalada each year? Do you use secret recipes past down from your grandmother? Do you make a special pie each year with your hand-picked apples? Share these fun details with your kids.
5 recipes to try with your kids
Ready to try cooking with your kids? While nearly any recipe can be adapted for cooking with kids, these four recipes are an easy entrance into the cooking world.
Banana Peanut Butter Sandwiches
A classic choice that’s easy for little hands to make. Kids can slice a banana with a butter knife or even a plastic kids’ knife. Use a spatula to spread peanut butter, top with bananas, add another piece of bread and voila!
Easy Cheese Fondue
This recipe is fun to make and fun to eat! This recipe replaces the white wine with apple juice.
What you need:
- 2 cups of apple juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Cheese: 1 pound of shredded Gruyere, ½ cup fresh shredded parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard (suggested Dijon)
- Salt, to taste
- Fresh-grounded pepper
- Dippers: Cubes of french bread, pretzels, salami, raw broccoli, tater tots, fresh sliced Gala apples
What to do:
- Toss the cheese in a mixing bowl with the cornstarch.
- Pour the juice into a pan. Bring to a simmer.
- Add the cheese slowly to the simmering juice and whisk constantly.
- When the mixture is smooth, stir in the mustard and salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat.
- Pour into a heat-proof bowl and serve with the platter of dippers.
Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Sticks
Use a double-boiler to melt chocolate candy discs for your child. Then create an assembly station:
- Dip the pretzel rods into the chocolate
- Roll the pretzels into various toppings: Crushed Oreos, chopped nuts, sprinkles, chopped up candy bars
- Set on wax paper to harden
No-Bake Peanut Butter Dessert Truffles
No oven? No problem. Try these no-bake peanut butter balls for a tasty dessert.
What you need:
- ¾ cups creamy peanut butter
- ½ cup salted butter
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- ½ -1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
What to do:
- Combine the first four ingredients.
- Mix well.
- Roll into balls.
- Freeze for 30 minutes.
- While the peanut butter balls are freezing, melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
- Dip each peanut butter ball in the chocolate.
- Sprinkle with crushed Oreos.
- Let cool.
- Store in the fridge.
Chicken Bacon Roll-Ups
This is an easy dinner recipe because it doesn’t require any cooking of the meat.
What you need:
- 2 cans of canned chicken (You could also use leftover stewed chicken meat)
- 16 ounces of cream cheese, either plain or veggie
- 1 cup of mild salsa
- 10 pieces of bacon (Cook ahead or use pre-cooked)
- 10-12 flour tortillas
What to do:
- Crumble the bacon.
- Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl except for the flour tortillas.
- Spread the mixture evenly over all of the tortillas.
- Roll each tortilla and then slice into 2-inch sections.
- Serve immediately.
What about you?
Do you love to cook with your kids? What is your favorite meal or snack to prepare together?
Kathryn is a self-proclaimed book nerd who has a passion for natural parenting and writing. As a homeschooling mother of two, Kathryn understands the dynamics of a busy family life. She is the founder of the Cor Domum movement, a mission that guides families through life so that they can parent with joy. Read more at www.katietrudeau.com
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