By: Molly Pelletier, Nutritionist, BS Dietetics, MS Dietetics Candidate
Preparing a meal with your kids is an excellent way to encourage healthy eating. Getting the kids involved early helps to build vital kitchen skills, while also fostering an appreciation for the art of cooking. Not to mention, watching fruits and vegetables be transformed into colorful, delicious dishes can encourage kids to try new foods. With a little bit of planning and patience, cooking with kids can be a very rewarding and positive experience. Here are our top tips for cooking with kids:
1. Be prepared with kid-friendly, safe kitchen tools.
Depending on the age of your children, you may not want to leave them in the kitchen alone or even look away while they are cooking. So be sure that all of the necessary tools are close by to grab when needed.
Some examples of kid-friendly cooking tools include: plastic non-sharp knives, spoons, forks, whisks, small spatulas, silicone basting brushes, small plastic scissors, small zip-lock bags, small cups, rollers, pasta cutters, play-doh tools, milkshake straws (use as toothpicks for kabobs, etc.), parchment paper, mini muffin tins, ice cube trays, pizza cutters and the BEST tools of all—their hands!
2. Dress for success!
It’s okay to get messy. The idea is to make cooking fun and stress-free! Since there most definitely will be hand wiping on clothing, wear aprons or oversized T-shirts that can be easily washed. Let your child’s foody expressions be accepted without feeling that they are “too messy.”
3. Say “YES” to the mess!
Whether you’re cooking or eating, when you’re with kids, spills happen. Try your best to be patient and make it fun! One of the best ways to make cooking with kids more stress-free is to drape the floor or countertop with large inexpensive sheets or a tablecloth.
4. Keep the activities simple and kid-friendly.
You probably already know that when kids cook, they want to be involved in everything! The good news is there are many fun and safe ways to involve the kids. Let them use their senses to learn about food: engage them in the sights, smells, flavors, and sounds of the cooking process. If you’re just starting out, no-bake recipes are always a great idea! Incorporating frozen berries, bananas, and Kids Good Stuff by Nuzest into a delicious, pink smoothie is a fun and colorful way to prepare a nutritious brekkie.
As previously mentioned, always let them have their own bowls and spoons. Use plastic baggies or plastic covered containers as “shakers” when making sauces, pancakes, and dips.
5. Make routine hand washing part of the fun.
Hand washing is an essential step in the kitchen process. Use a small tub or pan with bubbles and water to pre-wash hands, then after food prep or cooking, wash again just for fun. Be sure to keep washcloths handy for wiping and drying tiny hands. Keep it light and fun, perhaps with a hand washing song!
6. Precut foods for kids to grab, add, or sprinkle.
If sharp knives are a concern, it’s a great idea to pre-cut foods before involving the kids. This may also make the cooking process more seamless. Save the tearing, shaking, stirring, dipping, pouring, sprinkling, and mixing for the kids!
7. Keep an eye on kitchen safety.
This may sound obvious, but it’s essential to keep kids away from sharp items and hot surfaces. Cooking with your kids is an excellent time to teach them what is safe and what tools should be used with caution. If your child is older and would like to learn how to use a sharper knife, using hand-over-hand assistance is a great way to teach them knife skills.
8. Encourage them to do as much as possible.
Pre-plan and think of easy, kid-friendly tasks ahead of time. If your kids ask to do a task that may not be age-appropriate, try to say “yes!” and redirect them to help in a safe, fun way. When you’re cooking with kids, always try to say “yes” more than “no.” This will help the kids stay motivated and excited to be cooking!
9. Keep it brief, flexible, and positive.
We all know that kids don’t have the longest attention span. While it’s a great idea to keep them entertained with lots of kid-friendly kitchen tasks, it’s also ok if they lose interest! Keep the task under 30 minutes with a fun outcome.... EATING! As they get older, interests may ebb and flow. Always go with your child’s cues.
10. Have a picnic or a tea party.
Eating outside is not only fun, but also makes for easy clean-up! Brainstorm themes for the picnic or party that will be of interest to the child. Involve them in the preparation: picking the location, setting the table, and packing the picnic fodder.
11. Eat together (our favorite tip for cooking with kids).
Kids learn from adult modeling. The more you can show your child how to appreciate food and cooking, the more they will too! If the kids aren’t loving their creations, don’t pressure them to eat. Let them learn about food, enjoy the process, and eating will come with positive exposure.
I hope these tips and tricks have helped you feel more prepared and excited to cook with your kids. Always keep it light and remember, it’s fun to get foody!