October 26, 2018

10 Tips on Involving Kids in the Kitchen

If you’ve followed me for more than about a day you’ve seen Clayt cooking with me in the kitchen. I wrote The Whole Scoop back before he was even 1 and I remember sitting on the kitchen floor and licking out the blender with an 8 month old Clayton after making a vegan chocolate ice cream. He loved it. So did I.

Since then he’s basically there every time I cook. Yes he slows me down, yes sometimes it’s frustrating. But I always want to find ways to include him. He absolutely loves it, it helps him be more excited about eating things when he’s involved in cooking, and there are so many things to be learned in the process aside from learning about food.

I don’t always know how to let him help, but I try to find ways. Here are some of the ways we started and different things we do and ways we navigate it!

  1. Start by just saying yes. This is more of an internal thing. Saying yes internally to the process of ‘help’, yes to cooking taking longer because you’re not alone, yes to them joining in and learning, yes to breakages, mess, but fun, and memories, and learning… all of it. I have to change my mindset when I’m in the kitchen with a toddler. If my goal is still quick, tidy cooking I’m going to get frustrated so I have to change my goal to a fun experience with him. That makes it more fun for everyone!!
  2. Find age appropriate tasks. We started by sitting on the kitchen floor and having him throw carrots into the pan after I chopped them. (Yes, also started with licking our blenders. Equally important tasks.)
  3. Sometimes it’s easier to create a ‘fake’ task. If I’m doing something he really can’t take part in a certain age (which isn’t much – it’s usually more about my mood and if I really can’t take him slowing me down in a certain moment) then I create a task. I grab a bowl, a bag of beans and a measuring cup and let him scoop them into the bowl. Or scoop them out into a muffin tray.
  4. Assume they can do it. I try not to tell him ‘I’m not sure you can do that yet’ or to even think it. I always let him have a go. He started cracking eggs when he was just 2. We made messes, we broke a few (and scooped them up of the work surface to scramble, you know me!) but he kept going. He started by just banging them on the bowl to crack them and then handing them to me to break open, then he started trying to push his thumbs in to pull them open too. Next he adopted a crushing method of his own that kind of worked, and now he can happily crack and egg into a bowl with no mess. I just always told him he could try and didn’t swoop in to make it work.
  5. Knives. Kids always want to copy us – and it doesn’t stop when we’re using the sharpest knife in the kitchen. To let him join in I give him the same thing I’m cutting (or something else if need be) to cut along side me but with a table knife. If you cut a carrot for example into a thin strip to start with then a butter knife will easily cut through it and they feel involved. Now that he has a little more control I have an old knife that was once sharp that’s slightly sharper than a table knife that I let him use along side me.
  6. Dough… is a child favorite. It was one of my favorites growing up and it’s clayton’s absolute favorite. We make bread/tortillas/pizza at least one a week and I usually break off a little bit of dough for him to play with so he can fully do his own thing. It’s one of the earliest things that it’s easy for kids to join in on too. Then let them shape it however they want and just cook it alongside the bread, or cook it stove top alongside tortillas, or let them craft their own shaped pizza bits. It’s amazing for them to fully see their own creation and get to eat it.
  7. The stove. Disclaimer: This is my own personal philosophy. Obviously you have to use your own personal judgement and be safe but I let Clayt help me at the stove from the start. I remind him every time that it’s hot, and tell him what is hot and what he can’t touch. He knows it’s hot and we told him that from early on but I let him stand on a stool right by it, stir things, add ingredients to a hot pan. He’s never had a real burn, but he’s definitely ignored me 2 or 3 times and touched something hot. Now he asks me whenever we’re by the stove, “Is this hot?… is this hot? … is this hot?” pointing to the different things so he knows what he can stir and touch and what he can’t. We also talked about how steam mean heat so he won’t touch when there’s steam. Every child is different but it’s been the best way for him to learn and it means he’s confident and safe around the stove which I love.
  8. Cleaning up. I make Clayt clean up with me too. It’s part of the process and I want him to know that we clean up when we make a mess. It can actually be fun for them too. I just give him small tasks to do, and early on I just made him wait while I did it and explained, but ‘carry this to the dishwasher’ or ‘this goes in the trash’ or ‘put all of the measuring cups in the bowl’ are simple tasks that they can get involved with from early on. Now at nearly three he helps me load the dishwasher, he sprays the counters and I wipe them, he grabs a stool and puts things in the sink. I think it’s helpful for them to know the whole process.
  9. Plan cooking sessions just for them. Along with helping me cook, I also make sure there are occasional cooking sessions that are just about him.  Ones where we have more time, where he gets to do everything involved in making a cake and it doesn’t matter how it turns out or how much mess we make. I like adding these in because real life cooking isn’t always like that, we have to do something quickly or there’s something he can’t help with or we need to get right – but to compensate because he loves it so much, we carve out time just for it to be about him.
  10. Find simple no bake recipes. He pretty much helps me with anything and everything but it’s nice to have a recipe that can’t be messed up, doesn’t take cooking, and where all the components can be eaten raw. We make the freezer treats from The Whole Treat because you just can’t mess them up and you can throw anything in. They can be eaten raw from the bowl but then only take 10 minutes to be firm and ready after making.

A few throwbacks to Clayt in the kitchen over the last 2 years!



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