I have a confession. I’m not nearly as good at including my kids in the kitchen as I want to be. Every mom knows that in spite of the reward of giving your kids ownership of the food they’re eating, letting your kids cook means the meal prep will take longer and likely be messier. We’re a busy young family and I’m often scrambling to get food on the table in the midst of homework help, kids’ reading reinforcement, sibling peace talks, sports practice, and other commitments. As summer approached this year, I set a goal to help get my kids cooking more often. I’ve learned a few things along the way.
1. Dinnertime is Not Always the Best Time
Dinner is our biggest meal of the day and I thought that it would enable my kids to practice several cooking skills like peeling, chopping, seasoning, and sautéing. As it turns out, dinnertime is not the best time to teach cooking lessons to my wee ones. We tried. Oh, how we tried. But in our house we have a word that we use frequently: hangry. When being hungry leads to you feeling angry, you’ve become hangry. It was frustrating to plan a fun teaching recipe and then have the experience become negative because either the kids or myself were getting hangry. For this stage of my life, it works much better to have the kids involved making lunch or brunch instead of dinner.
2. Put a Stick In It
My daughters are besotted with all things decorative, sparkly and patterned. One evening I was packing snacks for our kids to chew on during their swim meet the next morning. As I opened the kitchen drawer to grab a knife, I saw the remains of a small pack of bamboo skewers. I grabbed them and threaded them with sharp cheddar cubes and grapes in various patterns. When the girls opened the cooler and saw the skewers there were exuberant squeals. The next day for lunch they asked if they could make some “pattern food sticks” for everyone. Now anything on a stick has become a big favorite and my kids love prepping them with various patterns and ingredients.
3. Teach Everyday Favorites
My kids’ favorite raw vegetables are red bell peppers and cucumbers. Learning how to peel and slice cucumbers is one of the first kitchen tasks I teach them. This summer we moved on to learning how to cut red bell peppers. Bell peppers have a tricky shape for kids, but because they love to eat them, they’ve been excited to practice and hone their skill.
It also takes zero convincing from me when I ask the kids to make juice popsicles. I usually let them pick either a juice or lemonade base, blend it with fruit, pour it into an ice cube tray and on it goes into the freezer.
4. Make Mini Items for Heat Cooking
Ethan wanted to learn how to grill burgers this summer. I thought that sliders would be a great way for him to practice his burger seasoning, shaping, and cooking skills without being overwhelmed. He’s learned how to flip their small size deftly and safely and it’s helped him gain more kitchen confidence.
5. Include Everyone
Even the littlest kids can get involved in the kitchen. My 3-year-old has become our go to guacamole maker! Apparently all his Play-doh playtime has perfected his ability to squeeze and mash. It’s a fun, albeit messy, affair and his face beams when he carries a bowl of guacamole to the table and calls everyone for snack time.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned the most from our cooking experiments this summer, it is this; you need to find what works best for you now instead of always waiting for the opportune moment somewhere down the road. I waited for summer to come because I knew that then it would be easy to have my kids help me make dinner, but that turned out to not be true at all. Dinnertime just isn’t the best time of day for us, no matter what the time of year. Don’t feel you must wait until your kids are older, your meals are more structured, your nights aren’t as busy or whatever is holding you back. Find a way to start with small involvements now and you’ll start creating some great memories and delicious food.