Research shows that having kids help in the kitchen is tremendously beneficial. Picky eaters are often more prone to try new foods, and children in general gain a new appreciation for what goes on in the kitchen. Now, I know that having kids “help” in the kitchen often drags the process out. When you’re trying to get dinner on the table, the last thing you want is a helper who makes every job take twice as long, right?
However, think of it from this perspective: like almost anything with children, if you invest the hard work now, down the road you will reap the benefits. Like potty training, sleep training, teaching them to clean their messes…everybody wins in the end.
In the case of cooking, down the road you may end up having your personal sous chef, or at the very least, a helper to clean up behind you as you go. As always, start with little things and work your way up.
Some of the benefits of having your kids help you in the kitchen include teaching them about safety (such as how hot stoves can be, how to properly handle knives, how important it is to wash your hands), proper nutrition (how important it is that we fuel our bodies with the right things), and learning how to cook.
One thing to keep in mind: in order to maintain your sanity and keep the whole experience pleasant for everyone, you may have to lower your standards. Dishes wont be put away perfectly, clean up won’t be pristine, but learning is happening, and they’ll get there.
My 2 year old loves to help unload the dishwasher. She sees her big sisters and mama do it, and wants to copy everything we do. Right now, I’m milking that for all it’s worth! Obviously you don’t want your two year old handling knives and glassware, but silverware, cups, the kid plates, those are all fair game!
We also have a small hand vacuum my kids all love to use. They actually fight over who gets to vacuum with it. While it’s noisy and sometimes is the last thing I want to add to the chaos in the house, they are closer to the floor and can see the messes better than me anyways. If I let them go after the mess with the little vacuum, the floor gets cleaned and they learn something about cleaning up messes.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but I’m not stepping in crumbs and chips anymore either.
When I make supper, I usually am not measuring ingredients. However, if I’m baking, I’m more of a stickler for amounts. This is another easy way to include kids in the kitchen. If you have older helpers, they can measure out themselves. For the younger ones, you can scoop out whatever amount you need, and have them dump it in the bowl.
As an added bonus, if you have school aged children, you can have them help you figure out amounts and up the educational factor as well. As an adult, cooking is the only time I ever use fractions anyways!
Are there veggies that need to be washed? Maybe the fruit needs to be cut up and put in a bowl, or a salad needs to be tossed. With instruction and age-appropriate tools, kids can help with these things as well.
What kid doesn’t love to play with water? Put them to work scrubbing potatoes for baked potatoes (and if you anticipate the mess they’ll make, it might not be as frustrating). If you’re making homemade pizza or rolls, let your kids knead the dough or “roll” it out. Chances are good you’ll have to tweak the finished product, but after a couple of practice runs, you may be able to hand the dough to your first grader and walk way.
Children can help stir, sift, and (as they get older) sauté. Younger children can help push buttons, collect dishes to put in the sink, and grab various ingredients from the pantry.
Setting the table
This one is self-explanatory and often a staple in many household chores, but it’s a good one nonetheless. If you have kiddos who fight over this one (like mine do), you may want to have them alternate nights. Or give one child the silverware, one child the plates, etc.
I’ll admit, this is one I’m still working on. I’ve started letting my 6 year old help me from time to time (like on days when we don’t have to be anywhere all day) with scrambling eggs. When you and your child are comfortable with the idea, you can progress to actual cooking. Nothing too fancy, but scrambled eggs and oatmeal are simple and good basics. Toast isn’t really cooking, but is another good activity to practice.
If you have a child who is especially interested in cooking, you can further your child’s interest with cookbooks geared specifically towards kids, or maybe even enroll them in a cooking class for kids.
Again, like anything else in parenting, involving kids in the kitchen takes time, patience and more work than usual, but ultimately will pay off in the end. In time, your little sous chefs will be able to make their own breakfasts, snacks and help out with dinner (or make it by themselves!)