Tips for cooking with kids

Does the thought of letting your little one in the kitchen send shudders down your spine? The mess, the danger, the clean-up afterward... The fact is, children love helping their parents in the kitchen, and there are heaps of ways you can get them involved and have fun at the same time. Here are some great tips for making cooking with your kids enjoyable and educational!

From my own experience with pre-schoolers, there was no trouble getting them into the kitchen to cook. In fact, it was sometimes harder to find myself alone in the kitchen to get on with preparing something unaided. Let's face it, most little kids LOVE to cook!

As parents and caregivers, this gives us a wonderful opportunity to encourage our kids to help us in the kitchen. Not only is it creative and fun, it also makes a great contribution to learning -- adding to their development of maths skills, fine motor skills and artistic flair.

Additionally, it provides a way of encouraging healthy eating and positive attitudes towards food. You may even find it helps kids to tackle foods that they normally wouldn't thank you for.

Most importantly, the sense of value, pride in themselves and satisfaction in their end result is priceless. Cooking with your kids has got to be a good thing.


Here are a few tips that may help:

  • If you have not already done so, do a safety audit of your kitchen. Although you will be supervising them closely, make sure that any potential safety hazards are minimized. For example, ensure that:
    • Power sockets have safety plugs in place
    • The electric jug cord is securely tucked away so that the jug can't be accidentally pulled over
    • Sharp knives are out of reach
    • Poisonous cleaning products are locked in a cupboard that is inaccessible
    • "Their" food preparation space is away from the oven, stove and appliances with moving parts eg mixers and food processors
    • Always turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove or bench
  • Allow plenty of time. Choose a day where you are feeling reasonably relaxed and have time to devote to supervising and encouraging. This could be when a younger baby is asleep, a weekend day when there is more help around or school holidays when perhaps you are under less stress your self and are in a good frame of mind to take this on!
  • Consider the age of your child - this will determine what you tackle and how much independence they have.
    • Younger children love to "help" and "copy" an older person in their role. They may be quite happy to "play cooking" beside you wearing a plastic apron, with half a sinkful of warm water and a few plastic cups and jugs -- pouring, measuring and getting wet. You will no doubt get a floor wash as well so have an old thick towel ready to mop up any slippery spills at the end. You can do the same thing with play dough -- make up a batch and give them part of the kitchen bench to roll, shape and "cook" alongside you.
    • Slightly older children can take some part in the preparation of a "recipe". Obviously, safety is of greatest importance but help with some of the pre-preparation, e.g the cutting, grating, beating and heating steps will still give a child plenty of opportunity to create. Show them what measuring cups and spoons are, how to measure and talk about why you are doing things eg why you lightly grease the muffin pan before you put the mixture in.
    • Good recipes to start on include pizzas, muffins, biscuits that they can either roll into balls and flatten or roll out and cut into shapes. If you are comfortable that they are safe with toothpicks, cut up a whole range of foods for them to thread on e.g. rolled up ham that is cut across, cubes of cheese, pineapple, grapes, cherry tomatoes, small pieces of gherkin. For a dessert version, make little fruit kebabs from pineapple pieces, kiwifruit, strawberries, grapes - whatever fruit is in season that won't brown on standing.
    • School-aged children will still need supervision with measuring, cutting and heating but many will enjoy a bit more independence - just be prepared to 'hover', support, encourage and rescue when needed. Allow them to choose a recipe or meal that they like, use step by step recipes and once again, make sure you have plenty of time.
    • Teenagers usually don't need encouragement into the kitchen but they may lack the initiative to produce something in it. Cooking is not only fun but is also a life skill that needs to be learned. A bit of investment into encouraging teenagers into the kitchen and giving them regular responsibility for meal preparation will not only help you now, it will pay dividends for them and others when they eventually leave the comforts of home.
  • Teach them about food safety - make sure they also wash their hands with warm soapy water and dry them well before starting.
  • Encourage them to wear an apron and have a damp cloth handy for the inevitable spills and messes.
  • Take the opportunity to talk about healthy eating. Talk about food in a positive way.
  • ALWAYS praise and encourage their efforts and make them proud of what they have created.


Under 5

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