Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, snack time or dinner, cooking with your kids is a great way to involve them in your daily activities. In the process of making meals with your little ones, you also get to teach them about kitchen hygiene, healthy eating and foods from different cultures. Remember, when kids help make a new dish, they are more likely to try it. Below are a couple of helpful tips to make cooking with your kids a fun and healthy family tradition.
Make a safe cooking space
When children are infants or toddlers, just make sure no sharp objects, poisonous materials, or potential choking hazards are within reach from their highchair. As your children grow and become more mobile, kitchen safety should be the first topic of conversation each time you begin to cook. Because the oven, the stove and the knife drawer can be the most dangerous areas of the kitchen, it is important to create clear boundaries and rules regarding those areas, even when the appliances are off.
Read recipes out loud and tell cooking stories to your babies
Let’s be honest, until your children get a little older, having a demanding baby in the kitchen might make dinner time more challenging than cooking alone. You can keep even your youngest kids engaged in the kitchen by explaining to them what you are doing as you are doing it. Think of it like putting on a special cooking show for your favorite audience. Children pick up language quickly and love learning more about the world around them. Use your most loving mom or dad voice to read the recipe you are following or tell them the story about how you first learned to make this meal. You’ll notice your kids will pay attention to what you are saying and will have a better chance sounding out these familiar words when they are older and learning to read.
Ask your toddlers to help season, peel and stir
Starting around the age of two, children get really excited about their newfound motor skills and putting them to use. Keep your toddler focused on meal prep by giving them simple, easy tasks that use their fingers, hands and arms. To help boost their confidence in this process, make sure your helper is working at the same height as you. Grab a sturdy step ladder for them to stand on or a bar stool so they can sit next to you. Then, give them tasks like smashing potatoes, peeling garlic or stirring in seasonings. Cracking and peeling hard-boiled eggs can be super fun for a little one as well. If you have multiple children, be sure you guide them into working together and taking turns. Reward their hard work with a taste of what you are preparing. Because isn’t licking the spoon the best part of cooking anyways?
Keep them engaged and challenged
As your kids get older, you’ll notice they might start viewing everyday tasks as chores. The allure of mixing dressing into the family salad will fade over time. When you notice your child ageing out of simple meal prep tasks, you can increase the complexity of their tasks. Instead of just cracking eggs, ask them to count out how many you need by looking at the recipe. Preschoolers are great at measuring out simple ingredients such as salt and water. As they grow older, you can teach them the cooking basics like how to use a can opener, knife handling skills or setting the temperature and timer on the oven.
Create a sense of ownership in the process
Ask your little eaters what they’d like for dinner and let their answers guide the family meal decisions. This doesn’t mean they are planning all of your meals for the week, but letting your kids feel they have an influence in this process will make them excited for the meals they planned and more likely to help with their prep. Asking your child what they’d like to eat will also open the door to conversation opportunities about healthy, balanced meals and why we can’t just ice cream for dinner (even though it contains milk).
As your children begin to grow, and things like cell phones, social media and the internet may become more regular parts of their daily lives, cooking and sharing a meal is one of things that can still bring everyone together. Sharing time with your kids in the kitchen from an early age can help build a lifelong love for food and cooking. No matter how you choose to involve your kids in your kitchen, family cooking time will be something neither you nor your children will forget.
To get you started, here are some simple, kid-friendly recipes from Food Network Kitchen.
In honor of Child Abuse Prevention month, SEARHC will be sharing different ways you can strengthen your relationship with your children and tips for helping you manage the hardest job in the world – being a parent. Stay tuned this month for more!