Cooking With Kids
Young children love to try to do everything adults can do. This is why, in a Montessori school, we have a whole area called Practical Life, which offers children a lot of opportunities for cleaning, sewing, and other tasks for caring for themselves and their living spaces. Some of the most beloved practical life activities are food preparation, cooking, and baking. Offering your child opportunities to help with these tasks at home not only gives them opportunities for concentration, independence, and joy, but can have the added incentive of inspiring picky eaters to try new foods and eat a greater variety of foods.
Sometimes, parents have some anxiety about allowing their children access to the kitchen. Here are some tips to help alleviate your anxieties, embrace the process, and have as much fun cooking with your child as they will have cooking with you.
Do you have safety concerns?
Set the expectation in your home. Maybe say something like “When we cook, we cook together. There will be an adult with you.” Then decide on how you want things done in the kitchen. Will you be the only one to turn on the stove knobs? Will you be the one to hold sharp knives? Show your child what is and what is not available to them. Talk about safety in the kitchen. Prepare the environment. What do you have that your child can use? Do you have serrated knives? Or child friendly kitchen tools? Model a simple task like cutting a carrot. Then stay with your child when it’s their turn to cut so that you can guide them in the process.
Are you worried it’ll take too much time?
Use the weekends as a time to tackle a bigger project like bread or cookies. When time is short, like during the week night, start small, like peeling a few carrots or scrambling one egg. Cooking with your child does not have to take a lot of time. Just let them be involved in one part of the process - washing the produce, stirring the sauce, or cutting a fruit or vegetable. Give one job at a time. One idea is to let them make the salad dressing. Have them start at the beginning so they have ample time to finish the project while you are getting the rest of dinner together. Be mindful of the age of your child. For example, a 3 year old may be content to just stir something for 20 minutes while a 5 ½ year old will want to do more. Maybe they’ll want to try and read a recipe, measure out all of the ingredients, and cut the vegetables.
Are you afraid that your child will make a big mess?
You will be the one to model how to clean up. Have cleaning supplies at the ready and don’t put too much pressure on the area getting cleaned right away. Let your child help clean up and if it’s not to your satisfaction, go back after your child is gone and clean. Try separating your food preparation space from your eating space.
Are you concerned about wasting food?
There may be waste in the beginning of this process but over time as your children practice and learn, waste will be more minimal. For example, you may not have your child pour directly from a big gallon jug of milk. Consider keeping the milk in a more accessible container or pouring some milk into a smaller pitcher and then let your child measure out how much milk they need for the recipe.
Remember, the end result will not be perfect and it may not even be pretty, but your child will have joy and they’ll feel a stronger connection with you! Focus on process over product and just have fun!