Cooking with Kids: 5 Ways to Include Younger Kitchen Helpers
Cooking with kids can be a valuable way to introduce them to new foods, help them overcome picky eater syndrome and set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits. Plus, it's a great way to spend some quality time together and unwind after a long day of work (and homework).
You can assign tasks in the kitchen depending on your child’s age and their interests. The same can be said for adult family members who are new to cooking (or resistant to helping out): find things they enjoy and encourage their efforts as they become more confident in their skills.
Here are a few ways to get the whole family involved in meal prep:
Asking kids to pitch in when they’ve had a say in the menu often yields better results, particularly if you have picky eaters or older kids hesitant to jump in and help. Involve them in the process of planning your week’s meals and take them along to the store or farmers market to select ingredients. Especially with older kids, this is a great way to talk about balance: how to ensure a meal has protein, fat and carbs, and how to plan for variety in nutrients and flavors throughout a week.
Simple tasks like washing, peeling, chopping and mashing can be adapted for any age. While your toddler might not be ready for knife skills – practicing cubing, dicing and julienning like your teenager – they might be able to handle a masher on well-cooked veggies like a pro. Talk about the different vegetables you’re working with, including why they’re beneficial for the body, where they’re grown and where you purchased them. Particularly fun? Scooping avocado out of the peel.
Compiling, measuring and mixing ingredients
Ask your little helper to track down items from the fridge, pantry and spice rack (perhaps using a junior-sized shopping list if they’re old enough to read). You can then have them measure out components of the meal using measuring spoons and cups, adding to the appropriate bowl when needed. This is a great opportunity to work in some secret math and talk about fractions, addition and subtraction (plus, it will make cooking go faster when you’re not doing all the mis en place yourself)! Hand them a spoon (or an electric mixer as needed, age permitting) and have them go to town on the mixture.
Involve your child in arranging food for serving. Not only is this a fun art project, it creates an opportunity to talk about patterning, colors and shapes.
Being the master chef
Thinking through the timeline and order of operations for a whole menu can be a challenging and rewarding task for older kids and adults alike. Executive functioning is valuable in the kitchen and can be applied elsewhere in life, too. Have your helper sit down with the menu and recipes in advance to plan out the schedule for the oven, preparation and cooling.