I still vividly remember the morning that my 5-year-old self decided to make my parents breakfast in bed. I had often watched my mom in the kitchen and had confidence that I could cook something delicious with no trouble at all. Having settled on a menu of toast and eggs over easy, I put the frying pan on the stove, turned the stove on medium-high and left the room to watch The Smurfs. I was engrossed in the show for who knows how long, but the smell of the scalding hot pan reminded me that I had task to complete. I pulled the eggs out of the fridge, pushed a dining chair next to the stove, dropped butter in the pan, cracked my egg on the kitchen counter and let it fall into the blistering pan. The instant the egg hit the pan, it jumped out and part of the burning butter and egg white landed on my left forearm. I screamed and my parents awoke, not to a tasty breakfast, but a burned daughter and dual fear and relief that our house hadn’t burned down.
To this day I have a small scar on my left forearm that serves as a reminder of that ill-fated Saturday morning. It also reminds me of how wondrous the kitchen was when I was a child and how I longed to be a part of what was happening in it. Kids are mystified by cooking. To them the kitchen is really like the stage of a magic show. Ingredients go in, things bubble, whir, pop and clang and then, “Shazam!” dinner is ready! I love sharing that wonder with my kids. My kids are still young, but I've learned that with patience it's possible to have them right alongside me in the kitchen. Here are a few handy tips I've learned along the way.
The first thing I like to do when my kids are in the kitchen with me is to give them a quick summary of what we’re making or doing while we wash our hands together. It sets the example of proper kitchen hygiene and also gets them excited for what lies ahead.
It would be nice to outsource the peeling of all vegetables to my kids, but I remember how, as a kid, peeling was only fun for the first 2 carrots. Past that it was drudgery. Look at the tasks you’re about to give your children and see if it’s something that will encourage them to be excited about cooking. Some of my kids’ favorite kitchen jobs are mixing batters, cracking eggs, anything that uses a pastry brush, and shaping dough.
Allie mashing potatoes to make gnocchi.
Shaping the gnocchi.
Delicious fresh gnocchi with Bolognese.
Mel brushing an egg wash on our whole wheat rolls.
Mel “accessorizing” the rolls with some poppy seeds.
There are three knives in my kitchen: an 8” chef’s knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. I’ve taught my 7 year old how to safely hold and use the chef’s knife, but I’m mindful to give him things that will slice easily like mushrooms, zucchini, and eggplant. I let my 4 year old girls use the paring knife on peeled cucumbers, strawberries, and bananas. Most importantly, when my kids are cutting food I make sure to stay right beside them and help them learn how to properly hold the knife and food.
One of the easiest places to begin cooking with kids is on an electric griddle because the heat is easy to control and it provides a large cooking area. The first food I’ve taught all my kids to cook is pancakes. It takes a fair amount of control to ladle the batter and then learn when the pancakes are ready to be flipped and actually flip them. Regardless of what shape or how crispy the pancakes are, or how many pancake casualties we incur along the way, once they are topped with warm syrup and popped in our mouths, it’s a surefire feeling of success for my little chef.
Ethan pouring milk into the eggs he already cracked and whisked.
Cooking French toast with a leftover loaf of panettone.
Above all else, the best thing you can do to include your kids in the kitchen is to make it a fun place to be. Don’t worry if the vegetables they cut are all different sizes or the pancakes are too crisp. Instead, focus on making the kitchen an inviting place to experiment with new flavors and techniques. If you do, you’ll make more than great food. You’ll make great memories.