As a mom who loves to cook, one of my greatest joys was when my kids began to show an interest in my favorite hobby. It brought back many fond memories of cooking with my mom when I was a little girl. My mom was a great teacher of not just how to cook, but also how to be a mom. She was patient with me, let me make mistakes, and didn’t fuss if our creations weren’t “perfect.” As a result I learned to trust my instincts in the kitchen, and in life.
Cooking with kids is not always an idyllic, peaceful experience. Kids are inherently messy and noisy, but that doesn’t mean that cooking with them can’t be an enjoyable experience. Here are some tips to keep everyone’s stress level low and the fun factor high:
- Cook something you know. If you’re new to cooking with kids, start with a recipe that you can make in your sleep. That way you can focus on teaching kids what to do, and not have to keep checking the recipe over and over.
- Focus on what the kids CAN do, rather than what they CAN’T. Kids are great at mixing things together. It’s safe (nothing hot or sharp), technique isn’t a big deal, and fun (especially when you use your hands). Let them use a variety of tools to mix–spoons, spatulas, hands, whisks, etc. Measuring is also a great kid-friendly task. They love dumping the ingredients in the bowl, and they might even learn a bit about fractions in the process.
- Allow them to come & go. Kids’ interest in a cooking project can start out high and then taper off if there is a lot of waiting around. If they lose interest, let them go do something else. Forcing a kid to stay until completion takes the joy out of cooking. You can always invite them back into the kitchen when you get to a task that they might like.
- Let go of perfection, but not hygiene. It’s ok to let the cookies be a little mishapen–they will still taste great. Keep the experience positive so that the kids gain confidence and then their technique can come later. The only rule that everyone needs to follow is that hands need to be kept clean. Hygiene is a life skill that needs to be taught, it definitely doesn’t come naturally to most kids. But once this rule is established the kids will realize that washing hands is just a regular part of a fun activity.
- Make it a part of your regular day, not just a special event. I cook almost every day. Any time my kids want to join in, I let them. If I am constantly telling them “no” and shooing them out of the kitchen, they won’t associate cooking with fun.
Here are some of my recipes that are fun to make with kids:
- Gnocchi — this is like making Play-Dough that you can eat!
- Rainbow Melon Salad — how fun is it to use a melon baller?
- Grandma’s Corn Bread — a quick bread that has sifting & stirring (both kid-friendly tasks)
- Banana Bread — another quick bread, kids love smashing up the bananas!
- Strawberry Icebox Pie — whacking graham crackers with a rolling pin is pretty fun too
- Hot Cross Buns — they take a little while to make, but a fun tradition & introduction to kneading
- Mattar Paneer — making cheese would be a fun “science-y” project for an older kid
- Pecan Butter Balls — my mom & grandma always put me in charge of using the funky nut-chopper gadget when I was a kid
- Pork Meatball Bahn Mi — rolling meatballs is just like playing with clay (just make sure your kids are old enough to know not to lick their hands)
- Oatmeal-Date Thumbprint Cookies — kids will love smushing their thumbs into the dough!
- Dad’s Cheesy Scrambled Eggs — this was one of the first recipes I learned to cook all by myself as a kid
I hope these tips and recipes encourage you to get into the kitchen with the kids in your life!