In my experience, kids love to help cook. They love to help measure, they like to stir, and they can’t wait to see the finished product that they can claim as their own. But also based on my own experience, cooking with kids needs a little preparation to make it survivable. Here’s what I have to do before I get started cooking with my kiddos:
Lower the bar. I mean this in a nice way, but I’m serious. Whatever beautiful product you have in mind, you might want to, uh, let go of that image. However quick and painless you think that recipe might be, just let that go, too. Whatever you do with your kids will take longer, be more messy, and likely less attractive than you thought. That doesn’t mean it won’t taste delicious, though!
Tell them the plan. Kids always do better when they know what’s coming. They can stay on task better when they have an idea of what the task is. They need to know the first part is the fun part where they do all the helping, and the second part you might need to do on your own. Or that those muffins have to bake for ONE ENTIRE EPISODE of Octonauts, then cool for several MORE minutes before they can eat them.
Be flexible. Got a cloud of flour all over yourself? It’ll wash out! Did you lose half the bag of chocolate chips to the floor? Worse spills have happened! I try to take off my “in charge” hat before I get started. I’m often getting frustrated with whoever is “helping” if I don’t already have it in my head that all bets are off. If I’ve committed to making a mess and having fun, then it goes MUCH better!
Choose a simple recipe. Even if you think you’ll be able to control the proportions of the ingredients going into the dish, you may be surprised how sneaky the kids are at adding extra things in. If the recipe is something you know needs to be exact, then it might not be a good one to use.
Be careful. If your kids are still short, they’ll either be standing on a chair or stool, or sitting on the counter with you. Make sure they’re being safe – or else they can’t be good helpers!
Get everything out and close by before you start. This one goes with “be careful” because the more you have at an arm’s reach, the less likely you are to have a kid get loose, or dump something extra into the mix! Whatever your ingredients, tools, etc. are, have them close by before you are running around the kitchen while your kid is dumping the olive oil on the counter.
Divide the labor. If you’ve got more than one helper, make sure they know they’ve got to take turns. There are only so many steps to the recipe – either half it, and switch the helpers out, or go back and forth with pouring, measuring, and stirring. My kiddos can get frustrated when they’re standing around for too long, watching their sibling have all the fun.
Let your inner germaphobe take a back seat. Of course you had the kids wash their hands before you got started… but that doesn’t mean someone won’t sneeze a little too close to the bowl, lick the spoon, or reach in there with their sticky, contaminated fingers to be a taste-tester. You’ve just gotta let that one go.
Whitney Hsu is a wife, mom of three under 5, Jesus follower, worship leader, and writer. She writes about her journey, praying and laughing through motherhood at her blog, We’re Only Hsuman. You can follow her on Facebook, or find her on Twitter or Instagram, @OnlyHsuman.
I would add one more: Start early! I had my kids cooking when they were still in their highchair. They loved to mix and stir things for me, and taste of course. Now my oldest are 15 and I can just pass dinner entirely off to them when I need to . It’s great for them to have the skill!