Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cooking with Kids

by Malina

The Toddler Cookbook
My husband and I both love to cook. We like to try new recipes, read cookbooks, watch Food Network and more. Naturally we have wanted to have our kids join in the fun in the kitchen. Knowing what a kid is capable of in the kitchen and knowing how to keep them happy while you do things they can't help with can be super helpful.


Toddlers (age 1-3) mostly want to explore and experience but be near their parents. Instead of parking them in front of the television while you grumble thru making dinner, set them up with bowls of  rice or beans and some measuring cups allows them to play in the kitchen while you cook, out of range. Alternative ideas include musical pots and pans, pouring colored water between glasses, eating snacks, playing with cookie cutters and playdough, and "painting" cookies or toast with colored sugar water. One of my favorite books for this age is The Toddlers Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 1 1/2- to 3-Year-Old Busy.

Preschoolers (age 3-5) will let you know when they are ready to help. Give them simple tasks. Teach them how to measure a level cup of flour and have the bowl right next to the flour for them to dump it in. Have them hold the measuring spoon over the bowl while you put in the vanilla. Help them measure spices. Show them the recipe and how you are adding ingredients. Start teaching knife safety with a butter knife and easy to cut things like celery that don't roll around. Preparing ingredients for a salad is a great activity for these kids. There are also a ton of great cookbooks with simple recipes that you can work thru together. Two of my favorites are Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up and The Toddler Cookbook (which is really more appropriate for preschoolers in my humble opinion). The difficulty at this age is when the child wants to do things that they aren't quite old enough to do. If a child wants to help but refuses all the options offered, ask them to tell you what they want to do to help and modify the task to their capabilities.

Early elementary age kids (age 5-7) want to create their own recipes. They will probably love books and TV shows about food but want to make the recipes immediately so be prepared! They are able to help pretty well at this point and make some things with supervision. At this point you might let them think they are in charge and you are their helper and guide. They are usually able to stir something on the stove with supervision. There are tons of great cookbooks for this age. My favorite is no longer in regular print - Kidscooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual with Other but there is a great Kids Dish series as well. Holy Guacamole!: and Other Scrumptious Snacks (Kids Dish).

Upper elementary age kids (age 8-11) are ready to do some basic cooking on their own or with a friend. (With you in the room!) Get them themed cookbooks based on their interests and have them be in charge of dinner once a week. The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories or  Wookiee Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook are two examples. I know my favorite as a child was American Girls Cookbook: A Peek at Dining in the Past With Meals You Can Cook Today. They also are ready to cook their own eggs for breakfast for example.

I have had my kids pick out what they want for dinner at least one night a week from an early age. They help shop for the ingredients and help make the recipe as much as they are able. We check out a new kids cookbook from the library almost every time we go and pick out things to try.

By involving my kids in the kitchen and in cooking, I find it more enjoyable for all of us. They are learning, we are spending time together, and we get delicious food as the result!

How have you made cooking with kids an enjoyable experience in your family?

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