I am a big believer of involving children in our lives from the very beginning; they like to be an active participant in our days. Cooking plays a big part of my days and my little man has always been along for the ride when I am in the kitchen. Here are some great ways to involve your kids in the kitchen:
Babywearing is the best way to bring your little one into the kitchen. And while I don’t suggest wearing your baby while you are preparing foods on the stove top, you can easily bring your baby into the kitchen as you prepare a snack, whip up some hummus or wash fruits and vegetables.
Once your baby can sit up, bring the high chair right up to the counter. Let your baby see what you are doing – washing vegetables, chopping, measuring and pouring, stirring, blending, mashing, etc. And as you go about your meal preparation talk to your little one about what you are doing, show them the foods you are preparing, call them by name, let your little one touch them, play with them and if appropriate depending on age, let them taste test as you cook.
Tiny toddler hands love to play in water, so give them a bowl and the vegetables which need to be washed up for dinner and let them have some fun.
Buttons, what toddler doesn’t love buttons? Let those tiny hands press the buttons on the blender, turn on the food processor or put the vegetables into the juicer. Reece is right there standing on a chair or sitting on the counter when we make smoothies, juice, hummus, pesto, and so on. He loves helping out and being part of the action.
Pouring, can you say fun for a toddler? Let them help you pour ingredients into the blender, food processor or a bowl, they love it! Yes, it can be a little messy, but fun and mess go hand in hand when we are talking toddlers.
Stirring, Reece loves to stir. He wants to stir everything and anything in the kitchen. The other day he was helping mix the flours for the muffins we were baking, yesterday he was stirring the ingredients of our lentil walnut loaf as I measured and added them to the food processor bowl.Give them a spoon and let them go at it. Caution, when you are dealing with flour, watch out, you can easily end up with a cloud of flour filling your kitchen.
And once dinner is cooking, let your toddler help you set the table. Reece climbs up and down our dining room chairs pretty easily now, so I pass the place mats to him and he climbs up and puts them in place, and then I pass along the cutlery (forks and spoons only) and he places them on the place mats. Now it doesn’t always look perfect, but that is not the point. He is absolutely thrilled to participate and so very happy when he sees the finished product.
This is a fun stage, they can do a little more, and if they have been involved from the beginning, they really love the kitchen.
Adding three tablespoons of an ingredient to a recipe; pass the tablespoon to your preschooler and let them count out three tablespoons. Need one cup of flour, pass the measuring cup and let them give it a try.
Need water in a pot, fill a bowl, pass the measuring cup and let them transfer the water to the pot.
Preschoolers can use the masher and mash potatoes, they can help stir and mix, they can get vegetables from the crisper drawer and put them on the counter and they can even help you with menu planning.
School Age Children
If you have been having fun in the kitchen with your little one, this stage gets very exciting. You can start to introduce a knife and teach them how to cut up fruits and vegetables (hint: start with soft fruits when teaching knife skills, much easier to cut through, bananas work very well).
They may want more of a say in the menu of the day, so let them help with the meal planning. In fact, I have known some families to give up one dinner per week to the kids and let them plan, prepare and serve dinner. Of course, there should always be supervision in the kitchen, but try to remain as hands off as possible, if you give this a try. They will feel so awesome serving you the “tasty and delicious” meal they prepared for you.
Baking always seems to be a big hit with all kids. And what is not too love, it smells so good when it is baking and the tasty treats taste just perfect warm from the oven. Baking also lends itself very well for teaching or reinforcing math skills.
Send your school age children on a search for a new recipe. Get the cookbooks out and let them search the internet for new and inspiring recipes. Give them a cuisine (Mexican, Italian, Greek, etc) and have them find a recipe to cook up.
So whatever stage your children are at – babies, toddlers, preschoolers, or school age, get them in the kitchen. Let them be involved in the process. Make it fun, let go of the mess and enjoy it with them. You will encourage healthy eating, establish healthy habits and create a wonderful bond with your children.