Remember a few months ago when I encouraged you to get your kids helping out with chores early on? One of the ideas was to let them help out in the kitchen, which not encourages them to help you, but can also empower them to create culinary masterpieces on their own!
Start Kids Early in the Kitchen
Why else is it a great idea to get them started in the kitchen early? Here are just a few reasons:
- They’re more apt to eat what they make.
- They learn and practice math skills (like measurement).
- The kitchen is full of hidden chemistry lessons.
- It will instill an appreciation for meals and the cook.
- They’ll feel like they really accomplished something important.
- It will increase your quality family time (plus it’s something that has to be done anyway, so might as well do it together!)
- It will get them eating better/healthier food.
- It allows them the chance to use their imagination (to choose which spices to add, for example).
- It’s a wonderful sensory experience.
- It strengthens muscles and improves fine-motor skills.
- It improves literacy (even if they’re not reading yet, they can hunt through the spice jar for the garlic, which begins with “G”).
- It provides real-life work with following directions (and don’t be afraid to occasionally allow a measuring/ingredient mistake to slip by, because the unwanted result will help them see how truly important it is to follow directions).
- It instills good habits, like frequent hand-washing.
Pint Sized Cooking Solutions
Early on, many parents set aside a shelf in a lower cabinet, pantry closet or the fridge filled with ready-to-go snacks that even toddlers can help themselves to independently. If you haven’t already done it, start with this step in order to teach your child the rules you want him to follow with food. It might be that you want him to ask first before grabbing something, or that he can choose what to select at designated snack times. This is also where you’ll want to help him learn how to open packages safely (and neatly!) and to teach him how to clean up after himself when he’s finished.
You’ll also want to make sure to spend plenty of time having your child “help” you cook and bake, even if that means the process takes longer, is messier, and isn’t really any help to you at all. A good way to balance this help is to allow them to do things that seem like they’re a big deal, but really not. You might actually measure the flour out yourself, but allow them to dump it in the bowl. Or you set them to work peeling the labels off fruit, or taking the paper skins off onions – things that seem like big, fancy jobs, but are really just little tasks to keep them busy and allow you to get the work done yourself.
Let Kids Use Their Cooking Skills
Once your child has plenty of experience with these types of kitchen activities, then you can begin teaching her to make a few things on her own. Your progression might look different depending on what your family likes to eat, but here are a few ideas to start with:
- PB&J – No heat or cooking required for this one, just show them how to handle the spoon and the butter knife and they’ll be making their own lunch in no time! (Plenty of other sandwiches are easy to make, too – and once your child has mastered a few other dishes in this list, she can combine a few skills and make these yummy smashed avocado & bean sandwiches, too!)
- Guacamole – I’ve never really met a guacamole recipe I didn’t like, but some are pretty involved. A few years ago, I started making a stripped-down version that I love because it allows the flavor of the avocado to really shine. This is another one that doesn’t involve heat and it’s a great intro to knife skills because your child can hold the avocado down on the cutting board, push down into the top using a steak knife, and then rotate the avocado around with the knife still in to cut it in half. The rest just involves scooping out the innards with a spoon, pouring a bit of lemon or lime juice in, adding some salt & pepper, and giving it all a good stir.
- Toast – A great way to get them started plugging in appliances and having to work around heated food. It’s easy to drop the slices of bread into the toaster, then plug it in and push down the handle. They get great practice taking care not to burn themselves while removing the toast and then plenty of fine-motor work while spreading the butter on.
- Smoothies – Another chance to plug an appliance in and lots of freedom to choose and dump creative ingredients in. Try Gv’s favorite applesauce energy smoothie out for a special treat!
- Beans, rice, pasta & other grains – It’s easy to give kids freedom when measuring something like this because it won’t be the end of the world if they’re a little off (like it would in baking, for example). Whether you fix these foods in the crockpot, a rice cooker, or on the stove, boiled water is a safer medium than smoking oil! We personally use this rice cooker for all of our dishes, so Gv just measures out the dry ingredients, then adds in the appropriate amount of water, plugs in the pot and pushes the button. (See this post to learn how easy it is to cook dried beans.) But she’s made oatmeal on the stove before (technically on our fabulous little induction cooktop) and it’s pretty much the same process, but with the extra steps of having to turn on the stove and set the timer for when it’s done.
- Brownies – And I’m not even referring to brownies from a boxed mix, because brownies are one of the simplest baking projects out there. They’re fairly forgiving for a baked product because even if they turn out a little drier or moister than you’d usually like, they’ll probably still be edible. This dish involves measuring, mixing and working with the oven (we use our convection toaster oven to make the process even easier for little hands), but with a short ingredient list and one manageable-sized pan to deal with, it’s a great choice for young bakers.
- Get creative and combine several of these dishes into one – When your child has experienced making the above, help her to fee really impressive by combining several skills into one unique product. A favorite (& fairly healthy!) dessert around here is these avocado quinoa brownies. Despite the strange-sounding combination, they are divine and combine skills taken from fixing guacamole, cooking grains and baking brownies and roll them all into one!
Besides these great “starter” dishes for them to make independently, continue to enlist their help as sous-chefs and teach them to peel, stir, dump, rinse, pour, spread, mash, roll (pizza night is a great opportunity for this), cookie-cut, slice (start with bananas, since they can be cut with a butter knife!) and measure.
Pretty soon, you’ll have another cook in the kitchen who can truly help! Making batches of our homemade tortillas is so much easier now that Gv is able to mix them and press the dough out by herself. All I do is cook them in the pan and clean up while she’s working away at the end of the counter! And our weekly pizza night is easier, too. We make two pizzas each Friday (see this post for delicious, unique pizza recipes) and now Gv and I work side-by-side on our own pie to slide them in the oven in half the time it took me before! (She always enjoys placing her toppings in fun design arrangements, too!)
So, what masterpieces can your cute cooks and itty-bitty bakers whip up in the kitchen? I can’t wait to hear! Leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.