Do you feel like a prisoner of your kitchen — like the character Fiona Cleary in Thornbirds?
From waking to sleeping she lived in the kitchen and back garden, her stout black boots beating a circular path from stove to laundry to vegetable patch to clotheslines and thence to the stove again. (Thornbirds, p. 11)
I’ve had as many as 11 children in my kitchen (not all mine) at one time. However, I may have spent less time cooking than the mothers of two did. That’s because the more children there are working in the kitchen, the less work there is for me! I am going to work through five different strategies for spending less time cooking for a large family.
- The children did a lot of the work – happily!
- I developed a system that worked.
- I planned meals and made things ahead. (Recipes to come!)
- I bought special kitchen equipment.
- I bought food in bulk.
Happy Children in the Kitchen
Homeschooling families have the best advantage here, but working families with kids in school can still do this. Simply involve the children. The Amish have a saying, Many hands make light work. And it is so true! When involving your kids, consider their likes, dislikes, and attention spans.
The idea is to find a way to interest them and give them less to do than they want to do. When you want kids to cooperate on a regular basis, stopping before they want to stop is a good policy. It keeps them always wanting more! If you do this, you’ll stimulate a love for cooking. It will be slow at first, but soon your kitchen will be humming with activity! (I remember watching eight children dancing in my kitchen while putting away groceries! )
Here are the three main age groups with suggestions for each.
Tiny Kids – From One to Four
Your goal for this age is to make cooking fun and to create a desire in them to want to do more and more “grown up” tasks. They can do more than we sometimes give them credit for!
- Stir anything that isn’t hot (eggs, cake batter, soup ingredients, etc.).
- Knead bread. (They LOVE this!)
- Chop bananas with a plastic butter knife.
- Mash anything, either with a masher or with clean hands. Think tofu, bananas, potatoes, etc.
- Snap fresh green beans.
- Break apart romaine lettuce.
- Pull apart fresh herbs.
- Put away groceries.
- By three or four, crack eggs open.
- Pour liquid ingredients (depending on the child, you can begin this at 2 using child-size containers.)
- Put things in the crock pot.
- Help serve food.
- Make and butter toast.
- Set the table.
- Make pretty drawings for place mats.
- Help to clean up.
- Help pick and carry food from the garden.
Middle Kids – From Five to Seven or Eight
This age group can start to expand on their experience a bit and really start to help you in the kitchen.
- All of the things the tiny kids can do.
- Read the recipe while someone else does the action.
- Do the math to multiply the recipe into a large family-size dish.
- You or an older child can begin teaching the five year old how to use a knife to cut vegetables and herbs safely. Don’t expect speed at first. Just praise every effort.
- By eight, your child will probably be proficient at chopping.
- Stir stuff on the stove; sauté vegetables.
- By eight, they can start putting things in and taking things out of the oven safely.
Older Kids – Nine and Above
Keep giving your older child more and more responsibility. I could cook anything by the time I was nine. I made an awful mess, but the food came out good! By this age, my children were able to make a huge batch of 24 loaves of whole wheat bread without any supervision. We made bread weekly, so they had lots of practice.
- Everything tiny kids and middle kids can do.
- Let the older kids take turns taking charge of an entire meal.
- Let them plan a week’s worth of menus and make grocery lists.
Magic in the Kitchen!
One homeschooling mom I knew was startled at 7:00 a.m. to find her six year old waiting patiently at the table. He had cooked a dinner for breakfast and had set the table! (And um, it’s not safe to let your six year old cook without supervision! I would have put a padlock on the door if mine had done this!)
Still, there’s magic in your kitchen when kids are cooking. All of the children are right where you can see them. They are involved and happy, and you can count this as quality family time! And if you’re ever sick or busy with a crisis – you know your older child can throw a meal together with the help of the younger children. Taking the time now to involve your kids may be messy, but it is time well spent, and you will reap the benefits sooner than you might expect!
Oh, and if you have three or fewer children, don’t despair. This will work for you, too — you’ll just have to pitch in a bit more.
Have you made some memories with your kids in the kitchen lately?