Are your kids ready to cook? We bet they'd love to spend quality time with you learning how to make food!
Personally, I count myself very lucky, because my mom let me help her in the kitchen from a very young age. I remember when she had leftover pie crust, she would let me roll them out and cut with cookie cutters – we’d place them on a baking pan, sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon, and bake - my first “cookies!”
It's not always easy bringing kids into the kitchen to help. It takes patience and more time to explain what's going on, to prepare things ahead of time so they can help. But now that I’m cooking with my niece and nephew (ages 5 & 2), I can see that bringing kids into the kitchen helps them in so many ways!
- Teamwork & taking turns – not always fun to learn, but great skills for anyone to work on.
- It helps teach your kids where food comes from. You may learn something yourself. Be prepared for questions you don’t know how to answer!
- Recipes can help them become stronger readers. They'll even learn numbers (including fractions!) and concepts like sequence of events.
- Kids are more likely to try new foods if they help to make them!
- Quality time with you -- seriously. You have no idea how much kids can enjoy spending time with you and getting to help with the “magic” of making food
Here are a few suggestions about ways you can start to involve kids in the kitchen. We recommend starting with some basic recipes, like pancakes, muffins, or banana bread, that have a short ingredient list and not too many steps.
Use your common sense and scale these tips to your kids’ abilities.
Never let kids use sharp knives or implements or hot surfaces..
Supervise closely when using electric mixers, blenders, food processors, can openers, etc. Unplug them between uses for safety.
Wash hands! Make sure kids wash hands before helping, and between any messy steps. (It’s a great chance to teach them about how to stay healthy and keep germs from spreading.)
Basic Skills (Younger Kids Start Here)
Read the recipe first
When you read the recipe together, you can help them recognize numbers and sound out ingredient names. Reviewing the steps of the recipe teaches them about process and sequence!
Lots of recipes call for you to whisk together dry ingredients before adding wet ingredients – (think easy things like pancakes, muffins, cookies, and quick breads like banana bread or biscuits.) Give your little one a whisk and a high-walled bowl and demonstrate how to (gently!) stir it all together. Not too fast, or you’ll have flour everywhere. Trust me. . . . Once they get the hang of it, they can start on liquid ingredients, like eggs and milk.
If they’ve got the hand strength and coordination, let your kids crack one egg at a time into a separate, small bowl. Then, you can fish out any shell fragments before adding the eggs to the batter!
If you’re making banana bread, let them mash bananas with a fork! (My niece's favorite task :)
Count it out
Recipe calls for 2 eggs? Or 3 cups of flour? Have your kids help you count as you lay everything out, or as you add it to the mixing bowl.
Once you’ve measured a cup of flour or a teaspoon of spices, let them help pour it into the mixing bowl. As they get more confident and develop coordination, they'll be able to pour by themselves, and then start to measure by themselves!
Cut Out Cookies & Biscuits
When you’re done with the first round, let kids practice on scraps of cookie, pie, or biscuit dough. They can pat or roll it out (kid-sized rolling pins are adorable and helpful) then cut it, and place it on a baking sheet. (Leftover pie crust scraps are a great start – sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon before baking for a cute, sweet treat)
Intermediate skills (older kids may start here)
Once your kids have had a chance to master the skills above – they can move on to more challenging steps.
It never hurts to read the recipe together first. Go over the steps so you both know what you need to do. If they are strong readers, let them be in charge to tell you what the next ingredient or next step is!
Measure liquids into a measuring cup, and pour into the mixing bowl when it’s time. Again, they'll get some experience with fractions!
Let kids help you proof yeast for baking bread – Take a moment to explain what yeast is, why it’s bubbling, and why you need to wake it up!
Once they know how to crack eggs into a small bowl, give them a spoon to fish out their own shell fragments. It's tougher than it looks!
Depending on their dexterity, they may be able to measure Tablespoons or teaspoons of spices and level off with the back of a butter knife. (No promises on it getting back into the spice bottle, though . . .)
Greasing a pan
Getting messy with butter or shortening can be great fun – and it can also make a mess if they wipe it on their clothes. If your kids don’t like the sensation, or you don’t trust them quite yet, fold a paper towel to dip and spread the butter or shortening on the baking pan.
Let your kids help you transfer cake or brownie batter from bowl to baking pan. You may need to hold the bowl up for them so they can work! Be patient, it's trickier than it looks, don't you think?
So much fun, and so much work! Be prepared, some kids may balk when they realize how sticky it is. Teach them how to dust hands and surfaces with flour if it sticks.
Pat out pizza crust
Sprinkle a little flour or olive oil on pizza dough and let kids help you squish it to fit your pan!
Did we miss a great task your kids love to help with? Do you remember the first tasks you helped with in the kitchen? Share in the comments!
Read more resources for kids in the kitchen at the Home Baking Association: http://homebaking.org/foreducators/index.html