Cooking with kids can be a fun and rewarding experience– but it can also devolve into a catastrophe if you don’t approach it with a plan. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your time with kids in the kitchen!
Kids are kids, and like all people, they’re imperfect. You can’t expect your kitchen to remain pristine while they’re armed with flour and gooey fingers. But while a mess is basically a foregone conclusion, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the devastation. Wear aprons! Make sure you’re using the biggest bowls available if they’re going to help you mix things; it keeps spillage down. Put newspapers down on the countertops for easy cleanup– trust me, there are some things you can’t get back out of the crack between the oven and the counter. And clean while you go, just as you would cooking on your own. Learning to clean up is part of cooking!
This seems obvious, but I don’t know how many “kid-friendly” recipes I’ve seen that my own kid would not touch with a twenty-foot pole. Every kid is different, and no recipe is one-size-fits-all. But most recipes can be scaled or adapted to making with a kid. I’ve never made anything that looks like a caterpillar or a flower with my kid, but he can roll meatballs and stir taco meat and sprinkle cheese on quesadillas. And don’t limit yourself to lunches and dinners– baking, with its endless measuring and stirring and rolling, is a kid’s dream. Plus the end products are usually much sweeter– sprinkles make everything better!
Depending on the age of your child, you may want to mise-en-place some or all of the recipe before you start. That means chopping, cutting, shredding, or measuring before you call them to the kitchen, depending on what you’re not comfortable with your kid completing. My eight-year-old can measure out ingredients and peel a potato, but I’m not going to let him cut tomatoes, for example. And waiting to do it all as he idly watches is a recipe for disaster.
This may mean breaking one task (measuring flour) into a bunch of tiny steps– finding the measuring cup, getting a big spoon, spooning the cup full, leveling it off, dumping it. It’s second nature to us to jump from point A to point B, but newcomers to the kitchen may need more help. Making things more manageable for them will prevent frustrations on both sides.
This is your opportunity to mold those young minds! You don’t need to dumb it down excessively– teach your kids a cooking term or two while you work, or give them tips on how best to juice a lemon (they’ll love rolling it on the counter). Ask them about the smells and textures of the different ingredients. Let them taste things as they go, not just at the end. You’ll both get a good laugh over their reaction to unsweetened chocolate.
This is the most important thing. Expect it to take longer, make more of a mess, and give you a potentially questionable food product in the end. Remember that this is a kid you’re cooking with, not Julia Child. Be patient! And add your own fun twist. My kid loves pretending he’s on Iron Chef. We’ll introduce the secret ingredient up front, take periodic interviews with the “Iron Chef,” and present the food at the end for “judgment.” If you’re unsure, let your kid take the lead. Embrace the silly, answer the questions, and enjoy the time that you have together.