Cooking with Kids...Without Losing Your Cool (Part One)

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by Robin  

Cooking with your kids is a truly valuable activity - but it's not for the faint of heart or the under prepared.  It can feel perilous and the messes - oh the messes!  Don't fear - there are ways to make it manageable.  Recently, in my work as a Community Registered Dietitian, I gave talks to a couple of parenting groups about the why's and how's of cooking with kids.

What follows - in particular - is how to make this important learning activity work better for you.

First off, get yourself into a good mindset.  Keeping the goal in mind can motivate us to do what it takes to get our kids into the kitchen.

Motivation: Why it matters… 

  1. Cooking is an important life skill.  If you don't give it to your kids, who will?
  2. It's really hard to eat healthy if you don't have some basic cooking skills. 
  3. Cooking can help kids develop healthy habits and a healthy attitude towards food - for LIFE.  Give them this important gift.
  4. It provides an opportunity to spend quality time together.  Food is an expression of love - making food with and for each other shows how much we care for each other.
  5. Children learn best by doing.  Don't we all though?
  6. Kids who help cook, or grow a food, are more likely to eat it.  Studies and experience shows it.
  7. No guarantees, but for lots of kids working with new foods can help ease their anxiety about trying them.  If you have a picky eater, try bringing them alongside you in the kitchen.  Maybe, just maybe it can ease some of their reluctance to try a new food.  Keep pressure low, though.
  8. Cooking is great way for kids to contribute to their family life - and eventually ease your work load.  Families with teens can thrive with kids taking regular turns making meals.  I can't wait for this one!
  9. Kids feel loved when we give them our time and our trust. 
  10. The kitchen is a great classroom! Cooking helps teach:
    • Math through counting and measuring 
    • Health through learning what foods are healthy and what a balanced meal looks like 
    • Language by learning new words and reading recipes

And lastly...
It’s really fun!
(no really, it can be, keep reading...)

The Key:

Have patience & a sense of humour
...and realistic expectations

Source: OnTheFenceAdvocacy.com

Get Yourself Ready…

  • The right time for you.  Make sure it's a time when you feel able to deal with the mess and frenetic nature of kids in the kitchen.  Is it a night when you have to get supper on the table and heard kids out the door for hockey?  Not a great time.  Is it a lazy Sunday afternoon?  Perfect!

  • Know the recipe well.  This is not a time to experiment with something new or complicated, especially if your kids are toddlers.  Teens are another story - they may be more engaged by something new.  At the very least, read through the recipe ahead of time.  You do not want surprises.

  • Pull out your tools and ingredients ahead of time.  The smaller the kids the more important this step.  You don't want to turn your back to grab a spatula and find your batter spilled on the floor.  Get yourself good and ready before you even let them know what's coming up next.  You want to know you have everything you need; finding out in the middle of the baking that you're missing a key ingredient is frustrating for everyone involved.

  • Limit distractions.  This is true for both you and the kids.  Messes happen when your back is turned (and when the phone rings!).  Turn off the TV.  Let your calls go to voice mail.

Click above for simple ideas to get started (especially with toddlers) - simply tweak a store bought cookie mix!

Start Simply…

  • Start with an easy recipe (especially with toddlers).  The younger the kids, the fewer ingredients.  When our kids were toddlers we baked mostly with mixes.  (Or adapted some mixes - Ed shared some ideas in this post.)  Three ingredients and very little measuring made it quick and satisfying for us all.

  • What to look for in a recipe for small children:
    • Something with mixing and measuring
    • Not slicing or frying
    • Baking is a great place to start

  • Planning is part of the fun.   Select a few recipes you'd be prepared to cook with them.  Let them choose from your approved list.  You may have noticed, kids like making choices for themselves.  Don't start out by letting them choose from any old cookbook or website - make sure it's recipes your comfortable making.  There will be plenty of time to push the envelope toward more adventurous choices after you set a good foundation in your kitchen.

Safety First…Set Clear Rules

  • Always supervise.  You will feel tons of regret for leaving the room - there are too many chances for injury or mess.

  • Show the dangerous spots.  Point out the hot stove and tell them what you expect them to do around it e.g. stay back, keep hands away, etc. 

  • Give reminders often.  Yup, they will forget what you told them mere seconds later - keep the reminders coming.

  • Set clear rules.  If you do this....this will happen.  Don't put up with guff.   Here's some examples:
    • “If you want to help in the kitchen, you must show me that you are a good listener.”
    • “Sharp knives and hot stoves are for grown-ups.” (Until they are old/mature enough.)

Food Safety…

  • Everyone washes their hands before you start (and after they sneeze, pick their nose, pet the dog...)

  • —Remind them often:
    • No licking the spoon or your fingers.  (This one has been the hardest around our house.)
    • Tie back long hair.
    • Be careful handling raw meats or eggs.
    • Check temperatures.  Make sure hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold.

Working at the table, instead of the counter, can make it easier for everyone.

Set Them Up for Success…

  • A step stool or sturdy chair to stand on – or sit at the table.  

  • Use deep mixing bowls.  I usually choose bowls that are about double the depth that I use.  The co-ordination required to stir is a skill that develops over time - until then you will have ridiculous amounts of slopping and spilling.  It will get better, with practice.

  • A damp cloth under a mixing bowl or cutting board will help to keep it from sliding around.  I totally love this trick.  

  • Keep a cloth handy for cleaning up spills.  Did I say "a" cloth?  Sorry, I meant 5.

Another key to success in the kitchen is ensuring you choose age appropriate tasks.  

If you are asking your kids to help with something they just aren't ready to do there will be someone laying on the floor and crying - and your kids do not need to see you like that.

Next post I'll be talking about Age (& Maturity) Appropriate Tasks for kids in the kitchen.  

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