I cook with kiddos for a living and I love it. Now that I have 2 kiddos of my own I understand better now how what I do in the kitchens at YCA is very different than cooking with children at home. At YCA, I am there just to focus on the kids and get a few recipes prepared in a given time span, which do not get me wrong has challenges of its own and requires a lot of patience. Bt at home, cooking with my kids, there are a different set of challenges, Oftentimes, us moms, are rushing to get dinner on the table, the house picked up, and keep the kids entertained at the end of the day while trying not to lose our minds from a day of toddler talk, driving mom taxi all over town, and answering 1 million questions for kids.
I have been asked by moms for advice on how to include kids in the kitchen but stay sane in the process. So I thought I would share a few ideas.
1. Include them in a part of meal prep that is consistent: Making a Family Salad
For example, task your child, ages 5+, with the responsibility of making the families dinner salad. Maybe allow them to help nightly or on predetermined nights. Set up a station for your child with all the parts that should go into the salad. Give them a cutting board and safety knife and a big empty bowl. Let them know they are responsible for the family salad and that you can't wait to share it at dinner. Spend a few minutes giving them instructions and then give them space to let them work. You will have to be okay with an occasional carrot flying or some lettuce on the floor or the idea that it has to be cut perfectly. This is a great time to try new veggies that kids otherwise might not eat. If you Little One is investing time & energy to create something with it, they will be more inclined to try it.
- Head of Lettuce- washed and dried. Cut into steaks so kids can shred.
- Spinach- great for little ones to tear apart.
- Carrots- cut in half lengthwise so they can chop into smaller pieces, or if you have older children allow them to grate the carrots.
- Cucumber- also cut lengthwise- these are easy to cut so a great starter item
- Bell Pepper (red, yellow, green)- slice it in advance and instruct your kiddos to chop
- Cooked Chicken- Shred with 2 forks, or allow little kids to tear apart with finger
- Cherry Tomatoes- Allow kids to cut in half with scissors- so fun!
At dinner, make sure to make a big deal about the prepared salad and how grateful you are for their help in making it. This may also help your child be grateful for your efforts in preparing family dinner.
If your child is 4 and under, give them easier tasks like helping to stir, (my daughter loves stirring eggs), breaking up lettuce or spinach with their fingers, or Measuring out ingredients. You will help improve his/her fine motor skills while introducing them to new ingredients and flavors. Let them be your taste testers with raw ingredients. I definitely encourage you start cooking with your kids at an early age. Once my daughter could sit in her high chair, I let her help me mix & stir.
Set up a ritual that fits into your schedule: I try not to work on Monday so every Monday is our day to bake together. My daughter looks forward to our special time in the kitchen making a tasty snack to share with our friends and family.
2. Allow yourself time to prep in advance: Mise En Place
You will want to get everything ready before inviting your kids into the kitchen to help out. I try to do this at nap time or while my daughter is busy working on an art project or playing independently. Practice Mise En Place, a French term for everything in its place. Make sure to get all your ingredients and tools out and set up. This is helpful for the part of the meal they will be working on but also for what you plan on cooking too. That way you can work at ease without the frustration of trying to locate an ingredient or getting distracted when reaching into the cupboard to get something and trying to clean/organize.
3. Let your kiddos get messy:
Part of the fun and what will hold their interest in participating in the kitchen is letting them think they have control over the situation, which means being okay with a managed mess. At YCA, I have experienced a handful of children that cringe when they spill some flour on the table because they think they will be reprimanded for it. At YCA we laugh it off and say it happens but we need to wipe it up. So they learn boundaries and that they are responsible for their actions. They will have fun making a little mess but will be discouraged from making a huge mess if they have to be part of cleaning it up.
We also encourage kids to get their hands dirty. Touch and feel all of the ingredients to explore different textures and what goes into making recipes. My daughter loves to smooth tomatoes into a pot when I'm making a red sauce of pasta.
4. Have Fun:
Allow yourself to laugh off any mistakes and enjoy the time in the kitchen with your kids. You can be assured that you are teaching them a skill that will carry them through life. Even if they just learn how to prepare a salad- they will survive eating in college.
*GIVEAWAY CONTEST: How do you include kids in the kitchen? Do you have favorite recipes that you make with them? Share your thoughts in the comment section below & enter to win a 2 pack of Jr Chef Classes at Young Chefs Academy Fresno along with a a Safety knife to use at home.