I think it’s important to get kids involved in food prep as soon as they have the motor skills to do the simplest tasks. Sure, letting your 3 year old “help” make cookies slows you down, and it requires an extra bit of patience. The benefit, however, outweighs any frustration. I believe that when a kid cooks with their parents, they learn early on to be proactive about their nutrition, and it fosters a love (or at least like) of cooking, one of the most important life skills.
Some tips for cooking with kids:
1. Start early. A 10 month old can put ice cubes in cups, squeeze ketchup from a bottle, or “help” you stir a bowl of batter. An 18 month old can help you set the table, dump ingredients into a pot, and sprinkle toppings over a salad. A 3 year old can help you roll cookie dough into balls, or put the “ants” on ants on a log.
2. Let them experiment. I will admit that I’m a bit of a control freak, and it can be hard for me to let a kid make mistakes, or figure it out for himself (especially in the kitchen), but I try to remind myself of how much can be learned by trial and error. Max once made his own recipe of smooshed strawberries, milk, nuts, crackers, vanilla, salt and pepper, and maybe onions? He baked it. And it was terrible. But, he learned a lot about how to combine ingredients that complement each other. Kids a Cookin’ is a great place for them to choose their own recipes.
3. Share your experiences. While it is important to let them figure things out for themselves, it’s just as important for you to pass down your knowledge. If you make a dish that fails, talk with them about where you went wrong.
4. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and expand their skill set. If you’re a fan of a good hollandaise sauce, and yours is perfected, why not teach it to a kid who is old enough to whisk and has the attention span to see the job through. You know better than anyone that something as complex as that requires practice to master. (I cannot make a proper hollandaise to save my life. I could use someone patient to teach me.)
5. When appropriate, walk away. If your kid demonstrates the capability to make something on their own, give them a chance to truly do it on their own. My 10 yr old can make quite a few things, and he can follow directions, but I’m always right there with him. And I’m nearly incapable of not interfering. It’s hard for me. So recently, he wanted to make Chex “puppy chow”. I gave him the directions, and went and worked on the basement. He totally pulled it off. They turned out delicious, and we were both super proud!
If you try the Kids A Cookin’ website let me know. Also, I’d love for you to share some of your favorite recipes that you cook with your children.