Updated: Jan 10, 2019
Having kids in the kitchen sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it’s great way to get children comfortable with ‘helping out’. On top of that they get to improve on their literacy skills.
Having kids in the kitchen sounds like a recipe for disaster (pun intended 😅), but I think it’s one of the best decisions I made to get my girls comfortable with ‘helping out’. I’m an entrepreneur living abroad and have no luxury of hired help or grandparents to assist me with the kids. I must say, initially the thought of having my 2 year-old and 4-year-old kids in the kitchen seemed contrary to what I needed and could end up being "more work" for an already busy parent like myself. In actual fact, it is really one of the best things I've ever started. So let's dig deeper on why it is good.
Why We Should Make Food with our Kids
Firstly, they gain independence and learn the importance of making food. They've started feeding themselves every morning which frees me up to make their lunch boxes. Finger's crossed, they'll start to pack their own lunch boxes soon.
Secondly, they gain many skills while helping out, such as fine motor skills, pattern recognition, math, science and organisational skills, to name a few. Cooking and food preparation activities are often fairly complex but highly relatable. This allows me to apply a more cross disciplinary approach when I walk my kids through the activities.
Lastly, they gain confidence by knowing that they can do things for themselves without needing the help of adults all the time. This helps to minimise their frustrations when they need to wait for us and prevents unnecessary meltdowns. For some, making their own food can even help picky eaters become more interested in food. If you are quite convinced and now are figuring out how to start, even if you aren’t someone who even cooks that much, please read on.
Things to Have at The Back of Your Mind Before Starting
First, the most important thing is always safety. Ensure the environment is safe for you and your child so everyone can work freely and happily. Since I do not have an island in my kitchen, I sit them at the dining table and put a mini mirror to just keep an eye of things.
Secondly, we have to consider the child’s age and what he or she is already exposed to. My youngest’s first experience with food making was when she was under 18 months. She started off by sitting on the counter beside me in the morning, watching me make her lunchbox for kindergarten. This then got her interested in helping out. She then started with simple things such as washing fruits, peeling bananas (cut off both ends), pouring her own drink with small jugs and helping out with cake icing.
My number one (4 years of age) started off a little later as I was more protective and feared she would hurt herself or spill something. Very typical of a first child parent. Now, she is able to crack eggs (occasionally with egg shells in) and help to fry them on an induction stove ( I would not recommend cooking yet if your stove is gas type). She can make her own oatmeal but I keep hot water aside for her. She helps me with waffles, from mixing to ladling into the waffle machine. She bakes with me, performing all the steps required from the recipe. She is able to cut mushrooms and other softer foods with a small knife and also helps with stir-frying.
Third point to remember, do not feel discouraged if your child is not interested or stops midway of helping out. My number two loves it and always follow through with the task, while number one always likes the idea of helping out but realises it is work and gets disinterested midway. At that point, I tell her it will be nice to finish what she started. Sometimes the competitiveness in her rekindles her motivation, sometimes she just cannot care less. So I tell she can go clean up and go read a book. It’s all good. The next time might be different.
Finally, let’s not get too agitated when they make a mess unless it is deliberate. It's all part of the fun.
Some Ideas to Get Started
Here are some tips on what to take note of or how to get started:
Set rules: I always remind them that the kitchen is not a place to play or fight. The moment that happens, they have to leave. They also always have to follow my instructions especially dealing with tools that might hurt them if not used properly.
Tools: Some of the tools I find useful are crinkle cutter, child-sized whisks/ spatulas (easily available in lifestyle stores and aren’t expensive), kid-sized aprons, silicon mats as they prevent slipping of mixing bowls and are good for easy clean up ( I got mine from Ikea).
Child-friendliness: This ranges from the recipe to the demonstration of task. A simple search on child-friendly recipe can find you tons of suggestions. We have included some links at the bottom of our article. Also remember, think from your child’s perspective, you might have to hold the tools the way that your child feels comfortable holding so they can mimic correctly. I also like to draw pictures or use cue cards to illustrate the ingredients, tools and techniques used. This also sometimes becomes a mini treasure hunt where they can go hunt for the items needed.
So enjoy the process, you never know if your child might be the next Junior Masterchef!