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5 Tips for Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen

One of the greatest skills you can give your children is the ability to cook. Kids who help out in the kitchen grow up confident in their ability to prepare their own meals. As a result, they’re likely to be healthier than their peers, and they won’t have to try to figure out how to graduate out of ramen noodles someday down the road. Here are a few tips that can help you get your kids involved in the kitchen:

1. Think in Stages

Even if your children are little, they’re likely more capable in the kitchen than you’d think. Even a child as young as 2 years old can help out while you’re cooking. For example, toddlers can rinse fruits and vegetables. Set your colander up in the sink and run the water. Help your little ones reach the sink with a nonslip step stool, and let them get your produce nice and clean.

Kids can rinse your produce while you're working on the next steps in the process. Kids can rinse your produce while you’re working on the next steps in the process.

As kids get older, you can teach them other kitchen tasks – for example, a 3-year-old can help knead dough, and a 5-year-old can help you use your Measure-All Cups. These ages aren’t exact – some toddlers may be ahead of the game, and some preschoolers may need to work on their rinsing – so base the stages on your children’s skill and maturity levels.

2. Encourage Creativity

One of the most exciting parts of cooking is getting to try things out and discover new recipes, and the odds are good your children will have plenty of ideas for how to do this. Ask your kids if they have any ideas for how to modify their favorite recipes. Some of them might seem like a stretch to you, but unless they’re outright dangerous, give them a shot. For example, you might be pretty sure gummy worms have no place in macaroni and cheese, but your kids might be onto something special. Even if their ideas don’t work out, your children will still have learned something about how cooking works and which flavors don’t work together.

3. Instill Good Habits

When you let your kids help you out in the kitchen, you’re obviously teaching them valuable life skills. However, baking a cake or frying the perfect eggs aren’t the only lessons you can give your children in the kitchen. You can also use cooking as an opportunity to teach your kids about everything from tidying up after themselves to chemistry. When you’re working with your kids in the kitchen, clean up as you go along. This will help your children think of clearing counters and dishes as a part of the cooking process, and save them (and you) a lot of work once the meal is finished.

That said, it would be wise to resign yourself to a little extra mess from the start. Even at their best, kids tend to spill more than their grown-up counterparts. Keep that in mind early on, and you’ll be less stressed out when you need to clean up puddles you wouldn’t have made on your own.

Sometimes this is what helping looks like. Sometimes this is what helping looks like.

4. Make It a Learning Opportunity

You can also do simple science experiments with your children in the kitchen. One of the easiest (and tastiest) experiments out there is homemade rock candy. To make this yourself, start by boiling 2 cups of water, then stirring in 4 cups of sugar until it’s completely dissolved. The mixture should be clear. Use a water bath to slightly warm a glass jar (you can also do this by setting your dishwasher to its “plate warmer setting”), then carefully pour the mixture into the jar. Dip a weighted string into the mixture, then set the string on a piece of wax paper to dry completely. After 24 hours, re-insert the weighted string into the sugar solution, and tie the undipped end to a pencil. Use the pencil to suspend the string in the mixture, and let it sit for at least one week.

Each day, help your children observe what’s happening to the string. Have them jot down notes in a notebook, and ask them what they think it will look like at the end. As the week goes on, the sugar crystals in the mixture will adhere to the microscopic crystals that formed when you first dipped in the string. More and more crystals will attach themselves, and by the end of the seven days, you’ll have your very own string of rock candy!

Add a few drops of food coloring at the start for different shades.Add a few drops of food coloring at the start for different shades.

5. Embrace Passion

“You might just be raising the next great chef.”

You already know cooking is fun, and there’s a good chance your children are going to agree with you. Cooking alongside Mom or Dad in the kitchen can be the start of something great – you might just have the next great chef in your household this very minute. Even if your kids don’t grow up to be the next Julia Child, however, recognizing and embracing any passion they do discover for cooking early on can give them a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. People who cook their own food tend to be healthier and more able to save money down the road. By encouraging your kids’ excitement for making their own meals, you’re helping to ensure that they’ll do well later on.

You can also use excitement for cooking to help your children develop their reading skills. Get them some age-appropriate cookbooks they can look through, and have them pick out recipes they’d like to try. The trick here is having them lead you through the process – stay there to help them with words when they need you to, but otherwise, let them tell you how to do it. This way, not only will you get to try recipes your kids are excited about, but you’ll also build your children’s confidence and leadership skills.

10 Responses to 5 Tips for Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen

  1. donna August 3, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    I think this is a great idea. I did this with my kids from early on.

    Now my son cooks for his room mates, because they don’t know how to cook.
    They compliment his creativity in the kitchen all the time.

    My daughter also, is not afraid to experiment in the kitchen with new meals for her and her boyfriend.

    Feeling accomplished as a mom!!!

    • Maria August 27, 2020 at 12:28 pm #

      That is awesome. My mom was never afraid to let us in the kitchen to cook, she encouraged it. One brother use to make cakes and I would make all sorts of stuff as did my sister. My other brother does all the cooking for his family because his wife never liked to cook. His grandkids always ask him to make their favorites. My last visit he made me French toast!!!!!! LOL

  2. Mary Lou Hayes August 27, 2020 at 10:38 am #

    Thank you for creative ideas

  3. Gladys August 27, 2020 at 11:37 am #

    Fractions can be taught in an easy way with measuring. I use fractions when I double a recipe, do a recipe and a half as in making jams, or just a half recipe for a single person like myself. My grown kids always spent time in my kitchen growing up and can cook more than ramen noodles. My great grand sons have also spent time in the kitchen.

  4. Larane August 27, 2020 at 10:59 pm #

    Don’t forget to add table setting, manners , and math!

    • Kathy August 29, 2020 at 7:08 pm #

      What do you use to weight the string when making rock candy?

  5. Marilyn L. Weiler August 28, 2020 at 3:45 pm #

    My daughter started “cooking” when she was big enough to stand beside me on the step stool. Great memories of getting the “yuk” out of pumpkins, using a chocolate chip cookie comparison for a School science project, to planning meals with each food group. As a young adult she really got into baking and her friends have enjoyed her creations as well as the residents of the Homeless shelter and her local first responders.

  6. Amanda August 28, 2020 at 8:06 pm #

    We used to make up fun snacks with stuff we had on hand. If they get to help create they will stretch their imagination in other areas

  7. Sharon Blackmon August 29, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    When my daughter was a baby I would set her high chair near where I was cooking or baking. She would play with measuring cups and old bowls and I would let her smell extracts and spices. By the time she was 4 she could crack eggs like a pro. And now at 7 she has a handle on fractions because of using measuring utensils and learning to halve or double recipes. And she’s a BIG PC fan!!

  8. Mary August 30, 2020 at 12:15 pm #

    Good tips. I try to spend time in the kitchen with kids anytime I can. Started my kids early learning how to do meals. They are all the main cook in their families…Even the 2 boys.

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