Can we get real for a minute? No matter how much I love cooking with my kids, no matter how good my intentions, sometimes having my kids in the kitchen with me is hard work. It requires a large dose of patience that, I’ll admit, I don’t always have at the ready. Don’t get me wrong, cooking with my cute kiddos is easy and FUN! But not always. And those “not always” moments sometimes make me feel like throwing in the towel.
Bottom line: I have mixed feelings about the process of cooking with kids. But what I do not have mixed feelings about is the fact that the effort is totally and completely worth it.
All three of my kids wanted to help me in the kitchen from the time they could walk. It’s completely natural for children to want to get involved and help. I love taking advantage of that desire. In the beginning, though, I wasn’t very good at it. Like I said, patience isn’t always my most dominant attribute, and I found that my first few cooking projects with my oldest, Cate, didn’t go as smoothly as I had envisioned.
Here’s the thing: I was the reason those cooking projects didn’t go smoothly. As I’ve gotten older, gained more experience, had more kids, done more cooking projects, I’ve learned lots of tricks to help it all go smoothly. The only way I learned those things was through trial and error, by persevering and cooking with those cuties over and over and over again.
I loved watching the latest Citizen Kid video about twin chefs Lily and Audrey. These cute girls are completely dedicated to becoming chefs and have taken “cooking with kids” to a whole new level:
But as impressive as these girls are, the thing that struck me most while watching their video was Lily and Audrey’s parents. In order for those girls to have the access, freedom, and exposure they have had, they needed incredibly supportive parents. Their parents were willing to put in the time and energy to help their kids pursue something they love — in this case, cooking.
Having your kids cook with you isn’t always easy. It almost always takes extra time. It sometimes tries your patience. But it is worth the effort. I am so grateful that I didn’t give up after a few less-than-ideal cooking sessions with Cate when she was a wee thing.
So, why is cooking with kids so awesome?
- It reinforces math skills. It seems simple, but I am always amazed at the ways we can work with numbers when cooking — and that I can tailor that math learning to all ages. It’s kind of amazing.
- It teaches my children life skills they will have for the rest of their lives. When my kids leave home, they will know their way around a kitchen!
- It helps my kids build a healthy relationship with food. By helping to produce the food we eat, my children aren’t simply consumers. There is a lot to learn from that process, including understanding nutrition on a deeper level.
- It helps build self-esteem. The sense of accomplishment my kids have after cooking is pretty amazing.
- Most importantly, it brings us closer together. Sure, I’ve had moments where I wasn’t my most patient while cooking with them, but I’m certain that despite those bumps in the road, the bonding my children and I have while cooking is powerful and will serve our relationships well for the rest of our lives.
How can you make cooking with kids a positive experience for everyone, kids and parents alike?
- Set proper expectations, with your kids and yourself. I always give the kids an idea of what they’re going to be helping with and explain how the recipe will go down. More importantly, though, I learned to reset my expectations around cooking with them. The food will not look perfect — that’s okay! It will take longer to cook when my kids are helping — that’s okay! Basically, I learned to let go and let the project take us wherever!
- Cook when you are not pressed for time. Bottom line: it takes longer to cook when the kids are helping. If you’re on a time crunch, probably best to do the cooking project another time. As the kids get older, though, I find that I am able to get them to help me more with my daily cooking, which is now actually saving me time. All that training pays off!
- Be mindful of the recipes you choose. When I decide what we’re going to make together, I analyze the recipe to make sure there are lots of ways to get the kids involved.
- Make tasks age-appropriate. This comes with experience, but figuring out what tasks work best for different ages really helps with the process.
- Be nice! I am the one who loses patience, not the kids. I am the one who sets the tone for our cooking projects. I am the grown-up here. If I decide to be nice and patient and stick to that, then things go well!
I am not perfect, but I have gotten better at cooking with my kids. All three of them love it and get excited about cooking with me. Plus, the hard work is paying off. I sure love my little chefs!