Kids in the Kitchen: Where Do I Start?

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When my youngest son was born in February I was reminded of the benefits of having my children help in the kitchen from a very young age. Both of my older children (10 and 11 at the time) were able to pitch in and help make sure that we continued to have healthy and delicious meals even when I could not spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  These are skills not only help our family now, but will follow them into their adult lives.

The two questions that I hear most often are “when do I start?” and “how do I start?”  For our family the answer of when is as soon as they are old enough to stand up and follow SIMPLE instructions. Our children start helping us in the kitchen when they are toddlers. They can pass us various items, help stir, put napkins and silverware on the table, and other simple tasks.

Mixing is one of the first activities a toddler can help with and maybe the most fun. They love stirring up the pancake mix or the fruit salad. Sometimes I have to go back behind them and mix a bit more to make sure things are thoroughly mixed or give them something like a small bowl of rice or beans to ‘mix’ when there is not anything that actually needs mixing.

As they get a little older, they want to start learning how to cut fruit or salads. We start our children with some of those basic cutting tasks around age three. I know that can seem young and probably scary to some folks but we use these great kid safe knives (aff) and close supervision. They can learn to cut up the lettuce for a salad or apples for snack.  This is a great way to get them active and engaged in the kitchen.

As they are learning those basic skills, they are watching our actions in cooking the meals. It is amazing how much they soak up simply by being in the kitchen with us. As they get a little older they begin to want to tackle entire recipes by themselves. At that time, we have them help us make the recipe. If that goes well the next time (or several depending on the child), we allow them to make it under supervision. Once they have mastered the recipe they can make it on their own. We repeat that process through various recipes until they have the skills needed to follow most recipes.  We are still available to help as needed, but at that point they are free to try new recipes without our direct help.

Another frequent question is how to choose recipes for children to try. There are many children’s cookbooks but unfortunately, they are often full of overly processed ‘boxed’ foods that do not work well for us. We do enjoy some great children’s cookbooks but often the recipes are simply the ones we use for foods the children enjoy. For example, my daughter loves pancakes. So, when she wanted to learn how to make pancakes we taught her the recipe we were already using to make pancakes.

You may be thinking about the mess and time that can be involved in having children in the kitchen. It can be a challenge but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. At the toddler/preschool age the benefits include quality time spent together, fine motor skills practice, and often encourages them to be more adventurous with food. As they get older, they work on math skills, life skills, and they can begin to contribute to the family through cooking meals or preparing snacks.

I am so grateful for the time I’ve had cooking and working in the kitchen with my children. I love knowing that they are learning valuable life skills even as we spend quality time together. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing posts with more details about knife skills, using cooking in our homeschool, and other ideas for helping children in the kitchen. Tell us in the comments when your children start helping in the kitchen and what is your biggest question or struggle with kids in the kitchen.

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10 thoughts on “Kids in the Kitchen: Where Do I Start?

  1. My kids were pretty good helpers in the kitchen when they were younger. I should probably have been more consistent and diligent about getting them to continue helping and taking more responsibility through their teen years. Now they are young adults (well, youngest is almost 17) and they are competent in the kitchen, but I would love it if I’d established a habit of them taking full charge of family meals regularly!

    Keep up the good work!

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  2. This sounds very similar to what we have done, but my 17yo and 18 yo also had a high school credit in Meal Preparation. The final test is for them to do all of our family meals for 3 days.

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  3. We taught our girls how to help in the kitchen at an early age as well. It pays big rewards when they get to those teen years and they can make the entire dinner 🙂

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    1. Yes! it is a wonderful feeling when they can take care of it. It is helpful now and I know it will serve them well as adults.

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    1. When my oldest was about 18 months old my husband was changing the new baby’s diaper and came out to find that the 18 month old had gotten an egg and cracked it into a bowl…. I guess that is probably what really started it all. 🙂

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  4. Mine were young when they learned to make pancakes, and that was WONDERFUL–took one thing out of my morning to have them take turns making pancakes for breakfast till they were sick of them 🙂 (which didn’t happen often!). We have an electric griddle, which made/makes it easier.

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    1. Yes, it is so nice to have someone else making breakfast in the morning. Pancakes are a favorite around here. My 12 year old and 4 year old actually made blueberry pancakes for us this morning.

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