Cooking with kids - as mom of five I explain why it's important, how to make it fun, give recipe suggestions and share kitchen tools that make it easier!
“Why did you throw a LEGO in the flour?”
“How did the baby open that jar of Nutella?”
"Don't hit your sister with those measuring cups!"
These are all real-life scenarios that have happened in my kitchen in the past month. As a mom of five kids ages eight and under, I will be the first to admit that Cooking with Kids isn’t always something I look forward to. Because let’s be real, letting kids “help” almost always takes more time and energy and creates bigger messes than cooking alone.
However, I’m here to encourage all my fellow moms and dads, and tell you that even though it may be more work, including our kids in the process of cooking and baking is truly worth it! So today, I’m going chat about the benefits of cooking with kids, as well as practical ways to make it more fun for everyone!
Why is it important for kids to learn to cook?
Here are a few reasons why it's important for kids to learn to cook and bake!
Cooking together creates memories.
The number one benefit of including our kids in the kitchen is that it creates memories they will carry with them for a lifetime. Remember when daddy burnt the cookies? Remember when Joe spilled flour all over himself? Remember when mommy lost her ring in the lasagna? Some of my most cherished memories as a child come from traditions we had in the kitchen, and I want that for my kids as well!
Cooking with kids may take longer, and it is definitely a whole lot messier, to let them measure, chop, mix and spread, but they will remember that mom and dad loved spending time with them in the kitchen. They will associate cooking and baking with quality time and love, which is a feeling that will stay with them forever!
Cooking with Kids encourages them to try new things.
Over the years, I have found that my kids are more willing to try something new if they help with the preparation. If a child is given responsibility to help create a dish, they are more likely to try it and like it!
Instead of hiding vegetables in the foods you feed your children, let them be the ones to add them to a recipe. It’s important they know what is in their foods so they can understand and develop healthy eating habits.
For example, if you’re making zucchini muffins as a healthy breakfast, let your child put the zucchini into the blender, blend them up, bake them. Then when they take a bite they will and that they do like a vegetable they may not have eaten otherwise!
Learning to cook is a lifelong skill
Teaching your children to cook is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. You are setting your sons and daughters up for future success by teaching them culinary skills at a young age.
What age should a child start cooking?
Before we move on to our "how to make it fun" section, I want to chat about this question, "What age should a child start cooking?"
I personally think we should start letting our children help in the kitchen as soon as they show interest. Most of my kids wanted to start helping between 18 months and 2 years old. Obviously they can't "cook" at their age by our adult definition of the word, but to them pouring ingredients into a bowl is cooking.
Starting them early is also a great way to teach them safety in the kitchen from a young age. So that when they're old enough they have a healthy respect for the stove, oven, knives, appliances, etc.
In regards to when your child is ready to actually start cooking, it depends so much on the individual child that it is really hard to give a definitive answer here. Here are some of the signs I have observed that indicate a child is ready to cook. However please note, I always recommend parental supervision when they are learning and young!
Here are some signs your child is ready to cook in the kitchen:
- Your child can operate buttons, knobs, etc. your child can turn the oven or stove on and off, operate the microwave, etc.
- They can read! I personally think it's important that a child can read before they have hefty kitchen responsibilities. They need to be able to understand numbers, read the words "high," "low," "on," "off" etc.
- They are confident & safe around fire/heat. My oldest daughter is still a little timid around heating elements, and prefers to have help with recipe steps that involve fire and heat. My son, on the other hand is all about the sizzle and pop...but he doesn't quite have the "safe" thing down yet. 😉
- They take instruction and heed advice well. If your child brushes off your instruction and doesn't listen to warnings then they are not ready to anticipate the events that could happen in the kitchen and deal with them appropriately. On the other hand, if your child is generally obedient and makes wise choices, they can be trusted in the kitchen.
Tips on how to make cooking with kids FUN
If you’re groaning on the inside thinking, “Ok, I see the benefits of including my kids in the kitchen, but I’m tired and it’s messy.” I feel you momma! I just had my fifth baby and sometimes the thought of adding something extra to our day is overwhelming. But please hear this, they are only little for such a little while. Let’s not let it pass by without creating fun memories and traditions in the kitchen! So, here are my tips and tricks for making cooking with kids fun!
Keep it simple
Choose a recipe that your kids can make on their own (ideas and suggestions later on in this post) Even though you will be helping, for them to truly own the process, it’s important that they feel like they did most of the work on their own.
True story: the other day I made banana bread with my oldest daughter. When my husband came home she said, “Look daddy! I made this banana bread all by myself, except mom helped me measure and add a few ingredients and put it in the oven.” In reality, I executed about half of steps, but letting her fully be in charge of the other half made her feel like she accomplished it all on her own! She was so proud of that loaf of banana bread she talked about it for days!
Before you invite your kids into the kitchen, be prepared!
- Gather all the ingredients
- Print out the recipe (because you don’t want them spilling on your phone or computer)
- Lay out the measuring instruments, appliances and tools you will need!
- Have a plan!
Think through the steps and lay tools and ingredients out in order. Make the process as seamless as possible so you don’t have the spend half of your time organizing or figuring out what comes next.
Note: Once you make a habit out of cooking with your kids, you will be more willing and able to let them help whenever (without preparation)! The other day my two-year-old said, "I help you mommy?!" So I plopped her onto the countertop and gave her an age appropriate task...taking potatoes out of a bag and putting them in the strainer. She was glowing with a huge smile, all because I let her "help!"
Give Everyone a Job
If you don’t assign a role to a child, they will find some way to participate that may be the exact opposite of helpful! 😉 Give an age-appropriate task to each child who is able and willing to be part of the fun. I taught my kids by age four to peel and cut vegetables (with my supervision of course), crack eggs, measure, pour, stir etc.
If you have very young kids, the goal is usually to keep them busy! I give my one-year-old a set of old measuring spoons and a bowl of flour to play with and she is happy!
Expect a mess
Remember that little kids are still developing their fine motor skills, and they will be clumsier than you and me. They will pour half of the ingredients on the counter instead of into the bowl, spill an entire gallon of milk on the floor, drop a whole egg (shell and all) into the batter, and many other wonderfully messy mishaps will occur that you and I could never foresee.
Just roll with it. Instead of getting frustrated and doing it yourself, help them learn from their mistakes so they do better next time. Also, let them clean up their own messes so they understand why it’s important to try not to get too crazy in the kitchen.
Create teachable moments & answer questions
Your kids will ask a lot of questions. A lot. They are learning new skills and interacting with new ingredients, instruments and responsibilities. Be prepared to answer whatever questions they throw your way!
Make your time in the kitchen meaningful and teach them something new! Think of the wide array of topics that can be learned during your time in the kitchen! Fractions, addition, subtraction, units of measurement, weight, volume, density, chemistry, etc. You can even use it as a time to teach them about plants, animals, agriculture, different cultures, etc. There is so much they can learn through the process of cooking and baking it’s remarkable!
Use a fun appliance
Fact: kids love buttons, lights, and loud noises. Using a kitchen appliance like a blender, food processor, standing mixer, ice cream maker, et.c etc. makes the whole process more exciting! Let them add ingredients to the bowl/container, turn the machine on and off, etc. etc.
Using kitchen appliances is also exciting because they can see foods transform before their eyes. Adding spinach to this muffin batter turns it green, and my kids think that is amazing. Just be sure to position the appliance in a place where everyone can get a good view!
Have a plan B
Even our best laid plans don’t always turn out. You could end up with burnt pancakes, cardboard cookies or a dinner that is totally inedible. Explain that flops happen and it’s ok! Talk about how you all can learn from the mistakes and make a plan to do things differently next time. Then, laugh it off and grab a box of donuts, go out for ice cream or order pizza! Turn a flop into a fun memory that you all will recall for years to come!
What do you cook with kids?
Here are some recipe ideas on what you can make with your kids! Note, I have very young children (8, 6, 4, 2, and a newborn), so I have learned ways to incorporate them in the kitchen while keeping them safe. I would say by age 8-10 (depending on your child's confidence), they could be ready to cook just about anything!
Start with recipes that don't require heat!
My kids have a serious fear of the oven and stove that I have been working with them on overcoming. However, just because they are too afraid to go near a flame or hot oven, doesn't mean you can't still have fun in the kitchen! Here are some no-cook recipes that my kids love making:
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches - literally the first "recipe" any of them ever made on their own. Try making grilled PB&J and your mind will be blown!
- Homemade peanut butter is a fun project to make with the kids. It takes less than 5 minutes and is so interesting to watch the process.
- Smoothies - I have a plethora of smoothie recipes that my kids have fun making! This green smoothie is a favorite!
- Smoothie bowls - My kids love smoothie bowls because they can put fun toppings on them and they taste like fruity ice cream!
- Pizza Sauce - my oldest daughter contributes to our Sunday night pizza nights every week by making this pizza sauce recipe! Not only does she learn how to measure but she has had to learn how to open cans as well!
- Chocolate Hummus. My kids are obsessed with this healthy sweet snack!
- Edible cookie dough - my daughter makes this all the time for us for dessert!
- Frosting - a great way to get used to using a standing mixer!
- Assemble a salad
- Put toppings on pizza
- Make salad dressing - most dressing recipes are quick and easy and kids can make them on their own! Try this balsamic vinaigrette !
Let them do the steps that don't require heat
There are many recipes we make together where the kids do 90% of the work and I do the other 10%. Baking is a great example. They love making cookies, banana bread, etc. cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, etc. etc. and then I just help them put the food in the oven!
Recipes to bake with kids
My kids love baking more than cooking I think, because they all have inherited my sweet tooth. Here are some of the recipes my older kids can make all by themselves. My 9 year old has even starting putting food in and out of the oven!
- My daughter makes these chocolate chip cookies (which are the best ever) all the time all by herself. Here are some more of our favorite kid-friendly cookie recipes: oatmeal cookies, double chocolate cookies, peanut butter cookies, etc.
- Banana bread is another one she makes while I put the little kids down for nap time.
- No bake treats like: Rice crispy treats, Healthy No Bake Cookies, no bake chocolate peanut butter bars, no bake oatmeal bars, etc.
Recipes to cook with kids using heat
Ok, now if your child is old enough and tall enough (or confident enough to stand on a stool and cook), here are some great ideas for foods and recipes they can cook on their own!
- Scrambled eggs - this is SUCH an easy food for kids to make on their own. I remember nannying for a family and I taught the 8 year old how to make scrambled eggs. Her mom said for the first two weeks she cooked about 10 eggs every day for herself and her family because she was so excited about her new skill!
- Mac and cheese - I recommend teaching kids to cook their favorite recipes so they want to learn how to make them!
- Pasta Sauce - We usually just brown some ground beef, add a bottle of sauce and call it a day. This is an easy meal a child can make on their own!
- Grilled Cheese
- Healthy Sloppy Joes
- EASY Tacos - (just ground beef and taco seasoning)!
- Quesadillas - these are SO GOOD
Helpful tools to use when Cooking with Kids!
Ok! Here are a list of items I use every single time I cook or bake with my kids!
- Measuring Spoons. I have three different sets of measuring spoons. I recommend buying measuring utensils that have the measurement etched into the metal, this way they will not rub off after lots of use. Your kids will need those measurements to ensure they are using the right spoon! I also love these because each spoon is a solid piece of metal, so it is next to impossible to break them!
- Measuring Cups: I love these for all the same reasons I love the aforementioned measuring spoons! Etched in measurements, solid piece of metal, etc.!
- Spatulas. I have so many spatulas it's a little embarrassing. LOL But sometimes just holding a spatula is enough to make your littlest tribe member feel like they are "helping!" These Chef'n spatulas are my absolute favorite!
- Batter Bowl (with handle)! Using a mixing bowl that has a handle is SO helpful when cooking with kids! I literally use this 8-cup batter glass batter bowl 20x/day. It's the best!
- Rolling pin. Kids love rolling out dough! Every time we make pizza, cinnamon rolls, etc. they all ask to have a turn rolling!
- Aprons. Save yourself from having to do lots of stain treating and loads of laundry and get your kids some cute little aprons that fit them! I have a couple for each child and sometimes they wear mine!
- Blender. My kids love helping me blend! Of course I recommend a Vitamix! 😉
- Standing Mixer. My mixer is another kitchen appliance my kids enjoy helping with and that I couldn't live without!
I hope these tips help you create beautiful and delicious memories with your kids!
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Okay, I probably needed this for motivation. I also have five kids, under the age of 8, all boys. I used to cook with them a lot more and looking back I got more frustrated with messes the more outnumbered I became and I stopped letting them help. My kids do love cooking and baking so I need to get back to it!