It can be tricky to cook a meal when you have little ones running around. Most kids become tired and hungry as the day comes to a close, and they often demand your attention when it is time for you to prepare dinner. So how do you meet both of these demands?
The answer is simple: include your kids in the process of cooking. That’s a scary thought, right? It certainly can be, but if you were previously trying to juggle cooking while entertaining the kids, having your kids help might actually make meal preparation less daunting.
In addition to having lots of patience, here are some tips to help you cook with your kids, as well as some kid-friendly recipes.
Tips for Cooking with Kids
Before you get started cooking with your kids, realize that your food may not come out perfect, and your kitchen may end up quite messy. That being said, these tips will make the cooking process more fun and safe, although not necessarily cleaner!
1. Bring Your Child Up to Your Level
The first thing you need to consider when including your child in the cooking process is that he or she must be able to see what you are doing and reach the counter in order to assist you. That may mean you need to have him or her stand on a step-stool or sit on a bar stool (sit, not stand). I suggest checking out Etsy to find a step-stool that will meet not only your needs, but also your budget.
2. Keep Your Child Away from Danger
Make sure that your child’s workspace is away from dangerous areas such as the oven, the stove, and where you keep the knives. Even if your oven and stove are off, make a habit of keeping young children away from them.
3. Ask Your Child What to Make
This can be a great teaching opportunity for several reasons. First of all, when your child says that he or she would like to eat cake and raisins for dinner, it gives you an opportunity to start talking about nutrition and the importance of having a balanced diet. Secondly, asking your child what he or she would like to make for dinner also lends well to teaching your child meal planning and how to shop on a reasonable budget.
4. Emphasize Good Hygiene
Another wonderful teaching opportunity that comes along with cooking with your kids is emphasizing good hygiene. By washing your hands together prior to preparing food, you are instilling good habits in your child. Plus, if your child is like mine, there is a high probability that those little hands were playing in dirt earlier in the day.
5. Read the Recipe Aloud
One of the best things you can do for your child is to read together at a very early age. By exposing your child to hearing words, he or she will be able to more easily sound them out and pronounce them once he or she begins to read. You can read anything, including books, magazines, signs, instructions, and recipes. If your child is already starting to read, have him or her practice by reading the recipe to you.
6. Assign Age-Appropriate Tasks
There are certain things a child can or cannot do because of his or her age, and only you as the parent will know for sure what your child is capable of. That being said, here are some ideas based on age:
- Infant. At this age, there is not much assistance that a baby can give you. However, this is the perfect age to watch and listen. Talk through what you are doing and read the menu out loud to your child.
- Toddler. Once your child approaches two years of age, he or she may be able to help pour ingredients and stir with assistance. With practice and age, your child will be able to do these tasks alone.
- Preschool. At this age, you can begin having your child count ingredients. For example, if you are baking a cake that calls for 3 eggs, your preschooler can help count them out for you.
- Elementary. From about ages 6 to 10 is the perfect time to have your child learn how to do measurements and practice basic cooking skills and techniques, such as using a mixer, opening a can, and rolling out dough.
- Older Child. Depending on the maturity level of your older child, you may want to allow him or her to start using the stove and oven. He or she may also be mature enough to start using knives for chopping. In time, your child should be able to completely take over in the kitchen.
7. Let It Be a Cultural Experience
If your child is learning about a particular culture or region of the world, make a dish from that culture. Not only would this be fun for your child, it also allows you to be involved in his or her education. This is especially fun for children of elementary school age and can be part of your homeschool curriculum.
8. Have Your Children Take Turns
If you have more than one child, it can be difficult if they both want to help cook. Work out a plan so that they take turns assisting you in the kitchen. They can alternate doing specific tasks, or they can help on different nights. Make sure they understand the value of their work and that you are all part of a team.
9. Cook Healthy
With the rise in childhood obesity, it’s important that we help our kids learn how to make healthy choices. So it’s probably not a good idea to only have your child help you bake brownies or fry funnel cakes. Make sure you also include your child when you prepare vegetables. This will help your child be more inspired to consume foods that are more nutritious.
10. Remember to Clean Up
Meal time is never complete without cleaning up. Just as you would want to make sure that your child washed his or her hands at the beginning of the process, you want to make sure your child does the same at the end. There is a good chance that there will be more to clean up than usual, but do not worry while you are cooking. Know that you’ll be able to get everything tidy later.
There are a lot of kid-friendly recipes available, but here are a couple of my favorites that even your littlest will enjoy.
If your family is like my family, every person has their own ideas about what should be the toppings for a pizza. Making personal pizzas is a great way to allow everyone to get what they want, and they are easy and fun for kids to make.
- Pizza dough (or Pillsbury Crescent Rolls)
- Pizza sauce
- Shredded cheese
- Various toppings of your choice
Note: The amount of ingredients you need is dependent on the number of people you are feeding.
- Unroll your pizza dough. If you are using Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, roll all 8 of them out, and use two rolls to form one pizza square.
- Have each person add their own sauce, cheese, and toppings.
- Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
What I like about this recipe is that it is a simple, kid-friendly, and healthy smoothie. It is nutritious yet still very tasty. Although I usually make my smoothies with berries, you can make yours with other ingredients such as bananas and pineapple. The recipe below is always enough for me and my toddler to have as a delicious afternoon snack. Kids can help by getting out ingredients, measuring, and pouring.
- 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
- 1/2 cup ice
- 1 cup milk
- Put all ingredients into a blender. Tip: Pour the milk into the blender first. I have always found that this is easier on my blender.
- Blend ingredients thoroughly, making sure there are no big pieces (or choking hazards).
- Pour the smoothie into cups and enjoy!
Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole
This is another recipe that kids can get in on the action. I love casseroles because they are easy to make, and there is usually no need to make any side dishes. I have found that this casserole in particular is super simple, and it’s one of the only ways that I can get my son to eat his vegetables.
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 lb cooked chicken
- 1 bag frozen broccoli (thawed)
- 1 can condensed chicken soup
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine rice, chicken, broccoli, and soup in a casserole dish. Stir thoroughly until all ingredients are combined.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Add cheese and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Cooking with kids can be intimidating, especially when your child is young. To make it easier, begin with including your child in one step of the process, such as washing his or her hands, or by simply reading the recipe and watching. Gradually, you’ll be able to include your kids more, and hopefully they will grow to love cooking at home.
Do you have any tips for cooking with your kids? What are your favorite kid-friendly recipes?