I have talked about including your child with cooking before on my Facebook page and blog, but it can definitely be a tough thing to do. It takes WAY longer to include your child in the cooking process and it honestly can make a much bigger mess, when all is said and done. I still want you to encourage you to give it a try! I am not asking you to include your child with every meal, every day, but make an intentional effort several times a week to cook with your child. If you want your child to grow up and be independent and enjoy the cooking process, that love for cooking starts now.
Tips for Cooking with Children
Embrace the Mess. When cooking with children, whether toddlers or older school age children, messes happen. It is inevitable that things will get spilled and your kitchen will end up being twice as messy compared to it your children weren’t “helping” you. Working to embrace that mess and be ok with that “disaster” is important. We would all love a neat and tidy work space, but teaching children and having them learn things can be a messy process. Along with the mess that will happen, take them time to work with your child and have them help you clean up. That is just as important of a skill as learning how to cook is how to clean up. Being able to take the time to involve them in the measuring, the mixing, the cutting (as they get older) and the stirring helps teach them to follow directions and create something. Having your child help with the dishes, load/unload the dishwasher, dry the dishes and put them away are useful skills to teach following directions and seeing a task through to completion.
Be Patient. As you cook with your children, you will quickly learn that it takes LOTS of patience on your part. It is way more stressful for you to slowly walk through the instructions and slowly measure/mix the ingredients. Your child will want to be independent and try to do that task on their own. That is great, but will require an extra dose of patience when they spill the ingredient on the counter/the floor. It will take extra patience as you work with your child to unload the dishwasher as they slowly place the silverware in the drawer, one piece at a time. Teaching your children these skill is a slow process. Try to keep your cool and embrace the fact that you will need to be patient, but they are learning and that is worth the effort.
Assign Specific Tasks. As you are working with your child, give them specific jobs to do. Explain to them what you want them to do. For example, have them stir ingredients on the pot on the stove. Give them a spatula and tell them that their task will be stirring the ingredients. Talk through how the pot and the stove are hot and they need to be careful. Give them affirmation that they are doing a great job following your directions and they are a big helper. This specific instruction is helpful for children to know what is clearly expected from them and then gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Be Flexible. Nothing will go quite as you planned it. You probably anticipated being able to prepare that food item in less than 30 minutes, but working with your children can length that task out by at least an additional 10-20 minutes. Sometimes you will have an expectation of what roles they will help with and how they will be involved, but your child might have different ideas. That is ok! Be willing to be flexible and let them help you in ways that they are interested in and make the experience positive. If you are cooking a meal like pizza with different topping options, be willing to let your child pick whatever they want on their own pizza. Be willing to hand over that responsibility to the child and let them take ownership of that. If you assign your child a job task, like sweeping the floor after they finish cooking, let them do that however works best for them. Be flexible with empowering them to take ownership of a task.
View this Experience as a Teaching Moment. Our main job as a parent is to teach our children. Taking the time to involve them in cooking and preparing food in the kitchen is a great way to teach them the art of cooking/baking, but also following directions, helping other people, functioning as part of the family unit and creating something to share with people. These are all amazing skills and using cooking as an avenue to work on these skills and instill these qualities in our children is a great goal. Talk through each step you are doing so your child learns what all goes into making a meal for the family. Your child will get better and faster at these tasks as you work with them over time, but enjoy the learning process and embrace the teaching moments.
Enjoy working with and getting to know your child better in the kitchen. This is a fun time to work with your children and help teach them skills that they will be able to use in the years to come. It can be stressful, but work to keep the environment positive, listen and dance to music as you cook and enjoy these little moments cooking with your child.