Earnest Parenting.com logo

Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

My older daughter just loves to help out in the kitchen. She takes pride in creating yummy and nutritious meals. She’s been “helping” in the kitchen since she could hold a spoon (and knew a few kitchen safety rules). She’s seven now and rivals most teens I know when it comes to cooking.

The littlest of the family? Not so much, yet. Put a spoon in her hand and she’s more likely to go off in a digging for treasure adventure with it in the back yard. To my youngest, Pop Secret in the microwave for 2:45 is about as gourmet as things get.

Dreading a future college experience for our child full of Ramen noodles, Trident Layers and outdated milk, my wife and I took things in hand. Together we came up with a few great ways to get our little one in the kitchen – and keep her there long enough to create something special the whole family would love.

Read on for the scoop on getting kids to help out in the kitchen, no matter what their interest and starting level.

Start With Kid-Friendly Recipes

Google or ask friends for super-delicious, very kid friendly menu items. What kindergartner wants to stand at the stove testing the fork-tenderness of asparagus? (Though I admit the idea makes my own mouth water.)

In these early stages of teaching kids to navigate the kitchen, focus less on health and more on what will get them really interested in what’s cookin’. Bagel pizzas, meatballs they can mix by hand (eeew—icky good fun!), baked chili fries and pigs in a blanket may not sound very nutritious, but they provide incentive to budding chefs.

Let Them Help Plan the Menu

Get kids involved helping to plan one dinner a night; then have them help create the meal. This is a good transition between “just for fun” recipes and putting nutrition into the equation.

Each child gets to choose one dinner item s/he would like to have. Generally, kids will pick side dishes or dessert, so you deal with the roast while they mash the potatoes.

We haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t take enormous pride in saying to a satisfied dinner guest, “I made that!”

Give Them a Math Lesson

Let kids show off their math prowess by asking how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon or requesting one-quarter cup of flour. In days gone by, my mom had us thumb through the cookbook to be first to figure out the conversions. Today, my daughter is more likely to grab my Smartphone and Google the question. Either way, it’s a lesson for them, while keeping things fun.

Keep It All Accessible

Buy a sturdy kid-height step stool so they can reach for what they want. Set up a low table for them to mix and measure on. Start keeping spices on a lower rack so little cooks can test their reading skills and reach for the right menu addition. A kid-friendly kitchen makes everything easier for both of you.

Remember: Safety Comes First

Safety rules are paramount. Start safe kitchen habits now, while your children are very young. I have a neighbor who, to this day, still moves hot pots to the back burner and turns the handles so little hands can’t reach them. Her youngest child is now 17.

But it’s great to maintain kitchen safety habits for a lifetime. Don’t let preschoolers touch the stove at all. (For instance, don’t set up a chair so she can stand to stir a boiling pot.) As careful and responsible as she might be, your preschooler simply doesn’t have the dexterity to prevent a tragedy from happening. So err on the side of caution.

Very young children can easily get involved in recipes that don’t require any heat at all. Have her tear lettuce leaves and pop them into a bowl along with grape tomatoes and whole olives. Ask her to stack the bread and put out the butter.

As kids get a bit older and more skilled, you can let them help operate non-dangerous kitchen machinery. For example, our ice cream gelato maker is perfect for my kids, with supervision. (We’re waiting a little while on the electric meat grinder, but we’re sure they’ll eventually operate that, too — while staying well within safety rules, of course).

Teach your kids great kitchen habits now and they’ll grow up with a love of cooking that they’ll pass on to their own little ones some day. Show them that there’s nothing better than saying, “I made it myself!”, and trust us, eventually you won’t be able to get them out of the kitchen. Good luck and remember to have fun — with both your kids and their awesome creations.

As a work from home dad of two daughters, Chris knows all about fitting an education into what looks like a whole lot of fun. He and his family enjoy putting together fun, healthy meals, though sometimes it seems like he’s the only one who will eat the veggies. Still, his eldest loves broccoli and his youngest devours cucumbers, so it’s a start!

Photo by Bas Van Uyen/Flickr

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who have budding chefs.