My children are always eager to help in the kitchen but at times its easy for them to get underfoot and just make a mess. I’ve come to realize that sometimes I need to embrace the mess and allow them to learn alongside me. Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful while having kids in the kitchen.
Most any child can help prepare food for a family meal. Older toddlers can rip lettuce, rinse grapes and set the table with unbreakable cups and silverware. Preschoolers (like my 3 1/2 year old daughter) can butter bread, pour water (with help), stir ingredients in a bowl, and fully set the table. My six year old likes to help make homemade pizza by putting the toppings on our homemade whole wheat crust and then cutting it into slices (with help). Yes, it may be messy, but it’s such a good bonding experience and teaches my kids to focus and complete a task. It also seems like my kids will eat more vegetables if they’ve made the salad!
Use Baking as a Lesson in Mathematics
Bring your older preschooler or grade school child into the kitchen during the baby’s naptime and give them a fun math lesson with measurements! My six year old helps me read the ingredients from recipes and fills the measuring cups and spoons with flour, sugar, salt and other things. He’s quickly learning how to read fractions and understand what a teaspoon is and what a “scant cup” means! Sometimes we’ll double a recipe and so it’s a chance for me to help him understand the beginnings of multiplication. Just keep the mood light and fun and don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to see the process all the way through.
Let Kids Choose Their Own Recipes and Make Them
One of my 3 year old daughter’s favorite snacks is “Ants on a Log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins on top). There are lots of fun cookbooks with kid-friendly recipes (the Southern Living Kids Cookbook is a good one) that can give the little ones a chance to get hands-on with food. I truly believe children will develop a love for good food when we let them take the lead in the kitchen and choose what to eat every once in a while!
Teach Your Kids Safety, Hygiene and Clean-Up Methods
Who likes toddler spittle in their fruit salad? Me neither. The first thing I did when my kids were old enough to stand on a stool in the kitchen and watch momma bake was to teach them some basic rules of hygiene. Wash your hands. Don’t put your mouth on open containers. Don’t lick raw egg off your fingers. And so on.
Also, it’s never too early to teach your children oven or knife safety! Of course you should use discernment with how involved you let the kids get with the “dangerous” jobs, depending on their age. And it’s also good to encourage clean-up after all is said and done. It can be hard to corral the kids into this job if they’re really hyped up and excited (at least that’s my kids!) but tidying up after themselves is a good lesson in responsibility and shows them that the reward of more time to play comes with cleaning up right away.
There you have it! Some tips and tricks that are working for me as I strive to teach my children the joy of preparing food for our family.