For many of us “grown-ups” cooking has become so automatic we don’t think about all the skills we use when we’re cooking. Skills like hand-eye coordination, reading, writing, math, science, appreciating nature, understanding nutrition and most importantly; creativity.
Allowing kids to be involved in meal preparation is a wonderful opportunity to let them develop kitchen skills as well as spending some great quality time together.
Oh, and it’s a basic life skill that’s necessary for survival. Cooking is the most important adulting skill. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that teaching your children to cook is the greatest gift you can give them.
It’s never too early or too late to start, just make sure the task is age appropriate.
When you go grocery shopping; try to involve the kiddies. Even very little ones can help in choosing fruits and veggies. When my kids were younger, I let them pick a new food to try each week.
Encourage kids to suggest a meal once a week to make together with you or on their own as they gain experience. This gives them “ownership” and it’s more likely they will enjoy the process.
A good kid’s cookbook is invaluable for coming up with ideas, here’s one I can recommend – Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!)
It seems every kid I know is most interested in cutting stuff up with knives. Depending on the maturity of your young ‘un let them first try cutting soft things with a plastic knife and progress to safety knives, nylon knives or pumpkin carving knives, before you give them sharps.
Here are some great nylon knives, not just meant for kids but they’re perfect for little hands – StarPack Nylon Kitchen Knife Set (3 Piece) – The Perfect Kids Knife, Lettuce Knife and Safe Kitchen Knife – Bonus 101 Cooking Tips
Kids should get supervised experience using appliances as soon as they’re responsible enough to do so safely. Teach them to cook on the stove top and oven, with crock pots, toasters and of course, the microwave.
My favorite piece of kitchen accoutrement for kiddies is the dishwasher. Cleaning up is part of the gig and be sure to have kids help store and use up leftovers too.
Finally, use each opportunity for a little food safety instruction and discuss food-borne illness, cross contamination and proper cooking and storage temperatures. Make sure you have a sink they can easily reach to make hand washing easy. Use a stool and have plenty of towels or paper towels handy.
Here are some “no cook” ideas for Beginning Chefs.
Provide constant supervision for very young children.
Silly Sandwiches – Let your child use cookie cutters to cut amusing shapes out of simple sandwiches.
Pretzel Kabobs – Have your child prepare a plate with fruit, veggie and cheese pieces skewered with thin pretzels. Add dipping sauces like applesauce, yogurt or ranch dressing.
Frozen Banana Treats – Let the child use a plastic knife to cut a banana into chunks. Dip the chunks into yogurt or melted chocolate then roll in crushed cereal, nuts or sprinkles then freeze. You can opt to skewer the banana pieces on popsicle sticks.
Pudding Pops – Help the little one prepare some packaged pudding mix allowing the child to measure and stir. Pour the pudding into small paper cups, add a popsicle stick and freeze.
Ideas for the more experienced Young Chef:
English Muffin Pizzas – Halve English muffins and spread with pizza or spaghetti sauce. Add your favorite pizza toppings, cover with cheese and broil.
(see note below)*
Billy’s Super Easy Nachos – Nachos are a fantastic do-it-yourself snack. So easy, a cave man could do it, OR a 6 year old! My younger son Billy made the nachos in the picture when he was 6 years old with minimal adult supervision!
(He’s 17 now and can make anything he desires, including meringues, egg drop soup and roasting whole chickens. He’s a fearless cook!)
Spread out tortilla chips on a microwave safe plate. Place dabs of your favorite salsa on each chip. Cover the chips with shredded cheddar cheese. Heat in the microwave until cheese melts. Remove from oven and cool just a minute. Enjoy. If you want to get fancy; add more toppings – refried beans, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh tomato, cooked shredded chicken or ground beef.
Smoothies – Using a blender, mix together different combinations of fruit, yogurt, ice, milk and juice. These can also be frozen as healthy popsicles. More smoothie ideas here – The Ultimate Guide to Cheap & Healthy Smoothies
Sides – Put your older kitchen helpers in charge of making side dishes. Give them the assignment of a salad or a steamed veggie. Learning how to make pasta and rice as well as bake a potato will serve them well all their lives.
*Always provide constant supervision for children using appliances.
More great cooking projects to do with kids –
I understand we’re so busy as parents and sometimes we just don’t have the energy it takes to let a young one crack the eggs.
But please remember, they are little for such a short time and you only get one chance to make them the best adult they can be.
Take a deep breath and hand them the spoon. You’ll be rewarded by sons and daughters who share in the joy of cooking.