When it comes to getting your kids to be more hands-on with cooking, there's no time like the present. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here's how you can get them to help out.
Listen: plenty of parents prefer to sit their kids in front of the TV while they churn out a weeknight meal, and for good reason. Having youngsters in the kitchen means things can get messy and distracting, which isn't ideal if you're trying to get a quick dinner on the table. But over time, cooking with your kids will teach them invaluable lessons. They'll learn good food safety practices, and they'll have a better understanding of how the food they cook affects their bodies. Plus, even picky eaters tend to be more curious about a meal they've helped prepare than one they haven't.
And hey—even if it is a mess, at the very least, you're spending time together as a family.
Here are some tips to help get your kids in the kitchen:
Start 'em young
Newborns aren't particularly renowned for their ability to help out in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean they can't learn a thing or two. Allowing them to be in the kitchen with you while you cook helps normalize it as a space they can enjoy, and as they get older, they will become more curious about cooking as they watch you do it.
Toddlers (even as young as two years old) can begin helping with simple tasks, like pouring ingredients into bowls, sprinkling cheese or garnishes, measuring ingredients, and rinsing produce. It's essential to have either an apron or an old shirt for them to wear (as things will get messy) and a sturdy stool for them to access the counter with you.
If you keep this up, by the time they're 6-9 years old, they can begin helping with more complicated tasks, such as cutting with a small knife, rolling out dough, peeling produce and using a grater.
Make the time, but only if it makes sense
Having your kids help out in the kitchen doesn't have to be something you enforce under all circumstances. If you're pressed for time, preparing a more elaborate meal, or even just feeling stressed out, it's better to give your sous-chefs the night off. Especially when you're first learning to cook together, it's better to try to make it work on weekends, holidays or PA days, when time is on your side. And when it comes to cooking projects, start with short, easy ones that the whole family will enjoy doing together, such as waffles, pizza muffins or homemade ricotta.
You can also find time outside of the kitchen to engage them with their food. For example, if you're at the local market on the weekend, let them inspect and help choose the produce.
Take the pressure off
Your children don't have to be contestants on the next season of Junior Masterchef season for you to have succeeded in their culinary development. When they're young, they barely have to be adept — it's far more important that they're interested.
Some cooking projects can be really simple, whether it's arranging the toppings on a pizza together, or assembling the ingredients for a taco bar. By keeping the tasks easy and familiar, you'll help your kids feel as though they've succeeded, hopefully reinforcing their desire to help more in the future.
If you have in-laws or friends who spend time with your kids, ask them to try cooking some of their favourite dishes with your children. And beyond your inner circle, the recent explosion of interest in the food scene means that now, more than ever, there are after-school programs and camps designed to help your kids learn about food. Some of these are more family-focused, if you want inspiration for new ways your family can cook together. Others are meant for just the kids to enjoy—you'd be amazed to see what children can accomplish when they're liberated from the watchful eye (and accompanying fears) of their parents.