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There are many worthwhile benefits of getting the children in your family to join you in the kitchen to learn how to cook.
Making something tasty together in the kitchen helps to nurture a long-term positive attitude towards food, cooking, and eating.
And it helps to create a supportive bond among family members – this would definitely be one of those activities for quality family time!
So how exactly do you get the little ones involved when it comes time to prepare a meal?
We’ll share some basic steps to introduce your children to the art of cooking, from brainstorming recipe ideas to cleaning up the mess when you’re finished!
Introducing Your Children to the Art of Cooking
1. Start a Conversation
It all starts with a simple chat!
When the whole family is not distracted by activities, homework, or electronics, set aside time for a simple conversation to discuss food and cooking expectations.
This is your opportunity to gather most of the basic information you need, and to develop the initial excitement about cooking.
This step also shows your children the importance of planning ahead for meals – teach them that the fun of cooking relies on a strong foundation of organization and preparation.
Review what they currently like to eat, what they might be open to trying, and any non-negotiable dishes and ingredients your kids absolutely will not eat.
While there are some tactics that you as the parent or guardian can apply to feed a picky eater, and even ways to hide healthier food items without getting caught, you still want your children to look forward to eating what they will be making – without scaring them away with ingredients or recipes they despise!
2. Stockpile Recipe Ideas
Nope, we’re not getting in the kitchen just yet, little chefs – we still need to gather some recipes!
To make menu planning easier for all future cooking occasions, it’s smart to build a collection of recipes you have reviewed together. You can pick new recipes each week!
First, you can review cookbooks and food magazines you currently own. Set out a few reading materials on the table, and let your kids peruse the pages to find a recipe or two they are interested in making.
Post-it Tabs and Flags Combo Set, available on Amazon
Be sure you have a way for your kids to save and quickly reference each recipe. Bookmarks are a great option, but Post-it tabs and flags are always a reliable favorite. You can purchase a combo set now on Amazon.
The type of food literature you have on hand is an important consideration here – focus on buying and using cookbooks intentionally written and designed for children’s age groups.
Your eight-year-old may not be patient enough – yet – to endure reading through pages upon pages of instructions on Tartine Bakery’s famous sourdough bread recipe in “Tartine Bread.” Though you might want to buy this cookbook on Amazon for when your mini-me gets a little older!
But they’ll love “My First Cookbook,” published by America’s Test Kitchen. It’s available now on Amazon. This book will teach the youngest home chefs how to cook with kid-approved and kid-tested beginner recipes using clear instructions and many photographs.
“My First Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen, available on Amazon
Other than print media, take advantage of food shows, podcasts, websites, and more for other forms of culinary inspiration.
Save any electronic copies of recipes on your computer, organizing the recipes in folders by overall type. For example, create separate recipe folders for beverages, lunches, snacks, breakfasts, dinners, and desserts.
The goal here is to make all of your kid-friendly recipes as accessible and organized as possible – there’s no time to waste when you’re running a household full of hungry future home cooks!
3. Stick with Simple Techniques
As mentioned earlier, don’t overcomplicate your recipe choices when you’re cooking with children.
You want your kiddos to feel excited when they’re in the kitchen – not confused, scared, or overwhelmed!
To maintain their interest and focus, choose recipes that are generally quick to make, from start to finish. You also should find options with small ingredient lists in order to minimize prep work.
Here is a list of basic recipe ideas that would be perfect choices to make with your kids:
- Chicken fingers
- No-bake snack balls
- Pasta salads
- Yogurt parfaits
As the parent or guardian, you also want to make sure you review the recipe in its entirety to determine safe practices.
As your children start developing their skills, then you can evolve simple prep and cooking techniques into more complex culinary tasks. All under your watchful guidance, of course!
4. Shop Together
Now that you have picked out your recipes, it’s almost time to shop!
Before you go, work on writing a grocery list together, organizing the ingredients by what aisles and sections you might find them in at the store you typically frequent.
If your kids are eager to shop, let them push the cart if they are big enough!
Teach them how to reference the grocery list as you go down each aisle if they are able to read, and to check off each ingredient once you find it. You can draw pictures to create lists for smaller children.
This is a great opportunity for you to give your child some autonomy in gathering the ingredients required for the recipe – this will continue to build upon developing a sense of pride for what they will soon create.
And if there is a local farmers market nearby, this is another teaching opportunity for you to educate them on seasonal offerings.
5. Set the Scene
When you’re ready to start cooking or baking, take the time to prepare the kitchen for a family-friendly culinary adventure.
It’s always fun when the kids can put on a cool uniform! In this case, make or buy them fun aprons to wear and keep them in a designated spot in the kitchen – not only will they look cool when cooking, they’ll understand the importance of staying clean.
Children’s Dinosaur Apron Set, available on Sur La Table
And when you feel comfortable enough to let your child do some basic knife work, purchase a children’s chef’s knife, made specifically for smaller hands with safety at the forefront of the design features.
You’ll feel at ease as your child is slicing strawberries and cutting bell peppers with Zwilling’s Twinny Chef’s Knife, available now on Sur La Table. Suitable for children ages three and older, the 4.25-inch knife features a rounded blade and a protective bolster. The blade sheath also doubles as a finger protector while cutting.
Zwilling’s Twinny Chef’s Knife, available on Sur La Table
Prepare the work space, clean off the countertops, bring in a step stool if needed, and set up stations for your children and for yourself.
6. Embody Enthusiasm and Patience
Don’t forget to leave any negative attitudes behind!
If your mind is elsewhere – thinking about paying a couple late bills, cleaning up an icky bathroom, or mowing a neglected lawn – you won’t be fully dedicated to ensuring your child has a worthwhile experience in the kitchen.
Be enthusiastic, excited, and 100% present!
If you clearly show that you love cooking, eating, and being in the kitchen with your children, chances are they will acquire the same enthusiasm, and soak in all that positive energy.
Be patient and go slow, allowing your juvenile cooking partners to learn without the anxiety of being rushed and pushed unnecessarily through each step of the process.
Be prepared to take a lot longer than the estimated prep and cook times included in the recipe. Between child and adult, you’re working with very different developmental abilities and physical limits!
You’ll also need to stop and explain what you are doing every step of the way, ensure proper safety protocols, answer plenty of questions – related or not to the recipe – and keep your child’s attention focused on the task at hand.
Do it with a smile, please…
7. Divide Responsibilities
Don’t expect your sweet little angels to be able to do everything! For a more enjoyable experience, you should split up some of the responsibilities.
You can divide the meal preparation into steps, doing one step yourself while your son or daughter conquers another step completely on their own.
This method is best when working on something your child might find too physically difficult to tackle alone, like vigorously whisking egg whites, or handling the initial cuts of a large, whole fruit or vegetable like a pineapple or winter squash.
They can work on measuring out some dry ingredients as you manage those more serious prep tasks.
You can also choose to work on each step together.
For example, if you need to peel whole shrimp, you can peel half of the amount of shrimp, while your child peels the other half – you can show your child how to do this properly, and they can learn as they watch you peel a few before they feel confident enough to conquer the task with their assigned portion.
And be sure to compliment them on how well they are doing to create a sense of pride and pleasure related to cooking. A little praise for all their hard work will go a long way!
8. Eat and Discuss Together
Now that you have made the recipe, sit and enjoy the meal together as a family.
When breakfast, lunch, or dinner is finally on the table, the whole family will relish the time together, eating and savoring the delicious fruits of their labor.
As you’re eating, you can talk about your thoughts and feelings regarding both the food and your experience while you were in the kitchen.
How does it taste? Would you have done something differently? Would you want to make it again? Was there a part of the prep or cooking process you liked the most? Liked the least?
This verbal self-reflection will help you and your children determine if you want to save this recipe for another round in the future, or if you should try something easier or slightly more complicated the next time.
9. Don’t Neglect Cleaning
Set a good example regarding the post-meal cleanup process.
This is the final cooking responsibility, and your children need to understand that it is important to complete after eating.
We know cleaning is not a fun chore to do, but it can’t always be left for the parents to do every time!
This is another chance to divide the work so it’s easier and faster to accomplish, while being fair to everyone in the family who was involved in both preparing and eating the meal.
Reassure them that it will be over soon enough, especially working together, and everyone will be able to relax once the kitchen is clean and the food is put away.
And why not have a little dance party to help you digest and burn a few calories as you clean – turn up the music, and let’s have some more fun!
What Will You Make Together First?
We are so looking forward to hearing more about how you will introduce your children to the art of cooking!
Take our advice to heart so you can make cooking an exciting experience for the whole family, one that hopefully will be repeated for years to come. It will be so rewarding to witness your children learning, growing, and developing their skills and interests in the kitchen.
And maybe one day, they will be baking a beautiful loaf of homemade sourdough bread, or cooking a perfect prime rib!
Who knows… with your continued support and encouragement, it might be sooner than you think!
How do you like to cook with your kids at home? Share your advice in the comment section below.
Cooking with the kids – success! If you’re ready to move on to other home and kitchen advice, we’ve come prepared with more articles. You’re sure to gain even more practical knowledge by reading these next:
- How to Recycle Old Pots and Pans
- 9 Easy Ways to Be Less Wasteful in the Kitchen
- 12 Tips to Speed Up Your Chicken or Fish Entrees
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Amazon and Sur la Table. Originally published on July 30, 2014 by Lori Jo Hendrix. Last updated on July 27, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.