5 Things Your Kids Do in the Kitchen
When I tell people that I teach children how to cook, I get very interesting responses. Many parents think it’s a good idea that children learn to cook, but I can see the look of dread and fear in their faces as they imagine doing it at home with their kids!
The truth is, children and cooking are a match made in....well, let’s just say that they are already sold on the idea of mixing stuff to make other stuff...
Friends, it’s no secret that young children can be a little...er...impulsive...and entrusting them with sharp objects, preparing the family meal or giving them access to new materials to explore might just have you dialing the pizza man before they can say "I want to help!"
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s assess where you imagine the greatest threat to your sanity when thinking about cooking with your kids. Choose the answer that fits you best:
A) Your kids’ quick ninja fingers that get into stuff when you turn your head for a second
b) Those inopportune moments of exploration with the ingredients (i.e. “let’s see what the flour does when I throw it!”)
C) Your chef getting frustrated when they have to wait for the next step
D) Maybe something else?
The thing that I always try to remember when teaching children is that they are new to this world. They don’t have the past experiences and associations that we have. They haven’t learned what a mushroom feels like, they don’t know what flour feels like on their fingers and they don’t get why others may mind if they stick their fingers in the sugar container to taste it (and then put their wet finger back in for another taste!)
1) Children, like adults, love to know what to expect. Walk them through what is next in the process. If there is an item or ingredient that is too tempting for them to avoid touching, exchange it for something else and put the tempting item out of their reach.
It’s best not to have too many different things in front of them at one time, as that will cause confusion and distraction. Only have the ingredient that they will use next in visible site. You can stage the other ingredients that will follow slightly out of their reach but close to your reach.
One of the pitfalls that happens when cooking with young children is that they move very quickly. When you turn your back to get the next ingredient or item, they are already digging in the flour or smashing a tomato on the table or they are trying to cut the counter top (or worse) with the knife you gave them. (When you give them a knife, glue your eyes to them!)
Have your items near to you and slightly away from them, so it’s easy for you to get the next ingredient or without taking your eyes off of your chefs!
2) Children learn by touching, exploring and seeing what things do. And it can be very frustrating to us when children keep touching things that we want to keep in place, like so frustrating that you want to flip-the-whole-kitchen-table-upside-down-frustrating!
Give them something they can touch. Give them a potato to wash. Show them what cooked spaghetti looks and feels like. Give them a pomegranate to take the seeds out of, or some dough to knead. In fact, the more touching you can involve them in, the better!
It’s the sensory experiences that help children learn. When they smell a lemon, or wash off the lettuce, or grind the salt, these tasks become real to them. For example, when your child grinds salt from the salt grinder, they are actually working on motor coordination, grading of movement (the ability to exert different levels of force), wrist rotation, and building strength.
Kids want to understand what things feel like, and also what they smell and taste like, too. Build it into your cooking, and let them know what are safe things to taste while they cook (raw eggs are always a no-no!)
What happens if I...?
3) Children want to see what will happen when they pull, push or smash things. It’s how they’re made. Remember, they really don't know what will happen and they are curious. It's also how they learn.
Don’t let this developmental stage take you off your game. If you find that your child is doing something that you don’t want them to do, because of safety, cleanliness or otherwise, tell them in a voice without emotion: “we are not going to do that.“ Here’s what we are going to do now, and describe the next task.
You might even give them something to hold that is safe for them, and might even calm them. These could be an orange or a melon, and they can compare the differences in texture, size and color.
Too Many Chefs
4) Another pitfall you might encounter is when you have more than one kid in the kitchen! They all want a task to do so they can feel productive, and they will all be asking you for something for them to do at the same time, no doubt. By setting them all up for success ahead of time by letting them know that they will take turns peeling, or they will take turns measuring or that they will have a turn to mix next, it takes the focus off of you and they get to practice taking turns and practicing the patience that is so necessary when cooking.
When you are cooking with kids who are at different skill levels, show the older ones how to help the younger ones. You will want to give your older chefs a sense of what to expect next in the recipe. You can give them an overview like "after we peel these carrots, chop up the onions and peel the garlic, we are going to add them to this bowl."
Bear in mind that the kids may trigger each other - the older ones may get frustrated at the younger ones and the younger ones may resent being told what to do - but try to get them all on board right in the beginning so that you can get the job done.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
5) You'll want to make your chefs aware that some waiting time will be required when cooking or baking. This is especially true with baking because there's always a time the dish has to be in the oven and there's a greater anticipation factor for it to be ready!
Line up something for your chefs to do while they wait so that they are not watching the oven or stove and asking you a hundred times when it will be ready. This could also be a good time for them to set the table or do another activity that is near the kitchen but not in the kitchen. That way they are still part of the action.
In my classes, sometimes we ready them stories, or we give the kids coloring pages to work on while we get the food ready and they are just as happy to color and chat while they wait!
Are there things that you have found helpful while cooking with your kids?
You might enjoy seeing this video about the tasks that kids can do in the kitchen:
Enjoy your week, friends!
PS - If you'd like to talk with me about your cooking challenges with kids and would like to find a solution together, email me here and we will set up a time to talk over the phone.