Cooking with kids.
This topic is humbling to say the least.
Sometimes I invite my kids into the kitchen and we all laugh and have fun, everything turns out delicious and I gloat to myself about what an amazing mama I am.
But many times, it starts out great but in the end the oil goes in the wrong bowl, the egg my son has been vigorously whisking for 20 minutes gets splashed on the floor and I find myself turning to yelling and wondering why I even try.
The truth is, cooking with kids is tough. Let’s get real here. Anything with kids is tough. But despite the challenges, I am amazed at what my kids have learned from being in the kitchen with me.
What kids learn from cooking
- Math-my 4 year old’s math skills blow my mind
- Fine motor skills-stirring, cracking eggs, etc…
- Patience-Both in waiting for food to be done and waiting for mom to be available
- That they can do hard things-Many of the tasks are challenging but they can learn them in a (relatively) safe environment
- Taking turns/sharing
- Basic nutrition-This kind of food grows in the ground etc…
- Chemistry-We have to add eggs to keep this together or the oil on the outside of the veggies helps them get brown and crisp
With all of those benefits, I say that things taking a little (or a lot) longer and occasional mishaps and frustration make it worth it to have them there with me.
I like to think of having my preschoolers and toddlers in the kitchen with me as an investment in the future. I imagine myself someday sitting on the couch browsing social media while my perfectly competent young teenager takes their turn making dinner.
A girl can dream, right?
So, how exactly do you go about welcoming your kids into the kitchen with you while maintaining your sanity.
As I started out with, none of these tips are going to work every single time, and there may be times that it’s Daniel Tiger to the rescue and that’s totally okay…but with these tips you should be able to stretch out the time you are able to cook and feel a little more peace while doing so.
9 tips for cooking with kids in the kitchen
- Start with a clean kitchen– It can be frustrating to clean something knowing you are about to get it dirty, but starting clean ensures all your dishes are ready for you and that there’s a spot in the sink for all the new dishes you are about to dirty. This will save you time allowing you to get the task done quicker ( in those little one’s attention spans).
- Give your kids one on one time BEFORE you start cooking-This is my golden tip for getting kids to cooperate with ANYTHING. If their cup is filled, they will be more cooperative and able to give you the time and help you need to get your tasks done, so put your phone away and engage and play with them for 15-30 minutes before you start cooking.
- Cook in the mornings when kids are in a good mood– Dinner time is everyone’s cranky hour in our house (ahem, including mine) so why add cooking to that already stressful time. So many dishes can be made-ahead, and if you can’t make everything ahead you can at least chop your veggies, measure your ingredients, pre-cook your grains so that dinner at night comes together in a snap. Take out your recipe in the morning and decide what you can do right then to make your evening go more smoothly.
- Invite children to help with age-appropriate tasks– I love to let my young kids (4 and under) gather ingredients, crack eggs, dump ingredients, stir, etc…)
- Set kids up with an engaging activity at the kitchen table-When they are checked out of helping or you run out of appropriate tasks, it’s totally okay to let them be done, but let them stay close to you. They will like feeling welcome and you’ll get more done with them close by (and be able to stop squabbles between kids quicker!!) My kids love coloring, play-doh, water beads, slime, blocks, puzzles, etc…If you’ve got a baby, try an exercaucer or wear them while you prep (avoid actually cooking while baby-wearing though as the baby could reach out and touch something hot!)
- Throw your rules out and let them bring whatever toys they want in the kitchen– I am normally a strict “toys in the toyroom” mom, but when I’m cooking anything that’s keeping them happy goes so if that means they need to bring all their favorite things in the kitchen to be by me, so be it. Your goal is their happiness and cooperation, and because you’re cooking productively now, you can be assured that you’ll have time to help them clean it up later. Promise.
- Play pretend games while you cook-The nice thing about cooking and meal prepping is that many of the tasks are simple and mundane meaning you can easily engage with your kids while you are doing it even if your hands are busy. When my kids start fighting or getting restless, I like to call out “Who wants ice cream?” My kids know this is a game that we play and we take turns talking about what kind of ice cream we want and pretending to eat it all up.
- Make it a dance party-I try to save this tip for the end when I’ve exhausted my other options. Turn on some music and jam while you work and see how the tone in the room changes.
- Simplify your menu-If even with all of these tips you are still feeling overwhelmed in the kitchen, take a look at your menu. Can you prepare simpler items? You can channel your inner Paula Dean later, but for now simple, do-able menu items are a must!
3 bonus tips for cooking with kids
I call these bonus tips because they don’t actually involve having your kids with you in the kitchen. They are useful tips, but try to turn to them only after you’ve exhausted the 9 tips above.
- Call in backup- A husband, a mom, a friend. Throw a meal prep party, ask a friend to trade babysitting for some homemade freezer meals that you meal prep while she watches your kids. Anything you need to do to give you the quiet time to get meals done.
- Cook while kids are sleeping-Stay up a little late, wake up early. Get as much prep done when those kids are sleeping as you can if you need quiet in the kitchen to get things done.
- Screen time-not an ideal solution always, but on those REALLY bad days that cooking just needs to get done, a few episodes of their favorite show will help YOU get stuff done, and them think you’re the greatest mom ever.