I remember telling my children that I would feel successful as a parent if one day they became healthy, happy, and independent adults. Cooking is certainly one of those independent life skills with the added advantage of helping their bodies to be healthy if they learn to cook with real food ingredients.
Cooking has many more advantages than simply fulfilling our basic need of needing good fuel for our bodies. To name a few, it is a wonderful creative outlet, it gives a sense of empowerment, and it provides a way for personal and social connection, both in the kitchen while preparing the food, and at the meal table.
So, you want your kids to learn to cook, however, when they ask if they can help you don’t know how to encourage them without it holding up your dinner preparations. Here are some ways to help your children get more comfortable in the kitchen without you getting stressed about them being in the kitchen.
Schedule a time for teaching a new skill
Teaching your children the many steps involved with cooking is best not done when you’re trying to get dinner quickly on the table, e.g., before the eldest has to go to football training or you are preparing for a dinner party. If you set aside some time on a day that is more relaxed, you can make it more of a time for connection rather than a rushed exercise.
Pick one skill at a time rather than overloading. Once mastered, these skills can be a help to you as a meal is being prepared. If you want some steps on how to teach your child to do anything, see my blog post on The 4 Steps to Teach Your Child How to Clean.
Find resources for easy recipes
It is well worth an hour or two searching the internet or bookstore for quick and easy recipes. Bookmark your favourite sites or have your favourite cookbooks on a shelf in the kitchen. Try my Easy Read Recipes at www.easyreadrecipes.com. They are written in an easier to read and follow format that takes away the frustration of having to continually go back and forward between the ingredients and method.
Get the kids involved with meal planning
The first step to getting a meal on the table is to decide what meal is going to be cooked. It takes away a lot of mental stress if you can plan the meals for a week rather than going from night to night.
To get younger children involved with the meal planning you could start with having a list of meals for the week and then asking the kids which meal goes on what day. Then it is best to give them a choice of two or three dishes that you would be happy with and that they can help to prepare rather than an open-ended, “What would you like for dinner?”
Otherwise, they could end up requesting something that they have seen on Master Chef.
They can also help decide what the side dishes could be. The younger ones can refer to the “Rainbow Food Chart” as you ask them which colours they would like to have in their salad.
Make a shopping list from the lists of ingredients
Having a finite shopping list of ingredients saves money because it reduces impulse buying. This also helps to alleviate some stress because you know what to shop for instead of guessing. It is also less stressful to shop for meals rather than make meals from what you’ve bought.
Kids can read out the ingredients from a recipe for you to jot down on the list. The older kids can share a shopping list app with you and add to the list the items they have used the last of. I have a policy that when the last jar of something is first opened, e.g., honey, that item goes on the list.
Take the kids shopping with you
There are a few ways to get them involved.
Ask them to find an item in the aisle that you are in that way you could still keep an eye on them.
The older kids can be responsible for grabbing the milk, etc.
Get them to organise the shopping trolley into perishables and non-perishables on the other end so that the fridge and freezer items can be more easily packed into the cold bags.
Once they become more familiar with reading labels ask their opinion as to which product is better when there is a choice of more than one option.
Have a reference list of age-appropriate cooking tasks
Having a list of appropriate tasks for each age bracket can alleviate the brain from the stress of trying to think of a task on the spot. Even if the list is in your head, it’s better than trying to invent something when you’re in a hurry.
Tasks for the little ones could Include
- rinsing the fruit and vegetables,
- setting the table,
- getting items from the lower shelves of the pantry or fridge,
- folding napkins in half,
- mixing ingredients in a bowl,
- cutting shapes out of cookie dough, and
- putting non-breakable dirty dishes and utensils in the sink
As they are older, they can start to
- use the measuring cups and spoons,
- peel fruit and vegetables,
- grate what needs to be grated, and
- stir foods cooking on the stovetop.
Eventually, a child can be responsible for cooking a whole meal. My 12-year-old niece Eden has been cooking meals since she was 10. It started with pancakes for breakfast and now she often cooks the entire meal at night. My brother helped by giving her a lot of support and encouragement. He found the time to teach her and now that effort is paying off many times over. Eden now has a real sense of pride and joy in what she can accomplish in the kitchen. She can even manage most of the shopping list.
Educate as you cook
Use cooking as a fun way to discover more about science and maths. For example, see what happens when you add baking soda to vinegar, how many quarter cups make a half cup, etc.
This can start from a very young age. I remember explaining to my babies and toddlers what I was doing as I was doing it, mainly because it helped with developing language skills.
In summary, as a family
- Schedule a time for teaching a new skill
- Find resources for quick and easy recipes
- Plan the meals for the week
- Make a shopping list from the recipe ingredient lists
- Go grocery shopping
- Have a reference list of age-appropriate cooking tasks
- Educate as you cook