From the time our children are about 18 months old, my husband places the first-to-rise child on the counter in the morning and has them help make his morning Americano. It takes a little more time than if he were to do it alone, but eventually they get the hang of it. After four years of this daily teaching experience, he is now proud to say that our almost six-year-old can fully and completely make him an Americano. It’s a morning ritual that the children love and fight over. They love the time with dad and the specialness that comes with being the one to make his morning coffee.
Here’s the thing. Including kids in the kitchen is going to mean that everything you do is going to take longer. It’s going to be messier. Things might drop, break, or spill. Ingredients might be wasted. But, if you’re okay with the fact that sometimes teaching our children is as much a learning experience for us (patience, anyone?) as it is for them, it is so absolutely worth it to include them in the process.
I don’t know about you, but when I begin pulling pots and pans out to start cooking or baking, my children come flocking and asking to help. Sometimes I go so far as to tiptoe around my kitchen, moving things around like a little mouse just so I can get dinner going all on my own without three chairs being pulled up and cornering me against the counter like a swat team (have I mentioned my kitchen is really small?). And then I reluctantly remember…if I don’t take the time to teach them competence in the kitchen, then who will? Sigh. Sometimes being a “responsible” mom is so hard.
While there are times when I still wish I could get a few minutes just to cook or bake alone, I’ve come to the decision that cooking and baking will often be a learning time in our home. In addition to teaching life skills, I often utilize baking in our homeschool lessons to teach math, reading, and listening skills, too. It’s also important that we involve our kids in the kitchen for more than just cupcakes! Healthy food prep can be taught, too.
Here are a few ways I involve, encourage, and teach my children in the kitchen. I hope some of them might inspire you, too, to get your kids cooking and baking in the kitchen!
1. Menu Planning. While the actual hands-on cooking is important, we can also utilize other aspects of the cooking process to help teach our children. I often allow my children to pick out a main dish, side dish, or dessert for our menu. Or, if we are going to bake muffins, I’ll let them choose between two different types. They feel special that it was “their” decision, and they get to learn that sometimes chicken nuggets don’t cut it for a dessert item.
2. Prepping. My kids are still really little, so they are a little more limited in what they can prep. Older children can chop veggies, while younger children might just be able to stir ingredients. Baking does seem to offer a lot more opportunities for little ones to participate. Children of all ages can measure out ingredients (talk about the measurements to teach about math, too) and stir. I also use prep work to introduce my kids to food items that they aren’t particularly fond of eating. The last time I let my four-year-old wash (ahem, play with) the dry beans before cooking them, she suddenly loved beans at dinner. Win!
3. Clean-up. While many children are seemingly allergic to cleaning, fill a sink with warm water and soapy bubbles, and suddenly dishes are everyone’s favorite thing to do. Kids can wash bowls and spoons and measuring cups (it would be wise to keep sharp knives out of their reach). It’s a perfect way to help them learn that there’s more to cooking or baking than just mixing up fun ingredients.
4. Serving. When possible, I allow my children to serve up whatever it was they prepped or made. They love to show off what they’ve accomplished and see peoples’ faces when they eat what they’ve served. It teaches that although it was fun or maybe even challenging sometimes, they did something for someone else, not just for themselves. It’s a great opportunity for children to learn about serving other people.
The kitchen is a great place to learn and grow with our kids. It does take time and patience, but so does most everything in parenting, right?
Do you allow your children in the kitchen with you? If not, give it a try! Just remember to put on your happy patient face first and remember…they are little and learning and will probably mess something up. And it’s okay.