How to Cook With Young Children
Cooking for a family is tough for any busy mom or dad. You will surely understand how finding the time to secure the right ingredients, and to prep them, cook them, serve them and eat them – then clean up at the end – is no easy task. However, parents with young children may find cooking particularly challenging, especially if those children are at home and want to be involved. If you are a parent of a young child, you will naturally want to be able to cook comfortably with your children around, and even include them in the process. The following tips will help you achieve these goals. By keeping in mind easy ideas about safety, convenience and fun, you can ensure that your cooking process is successful – and enjoyed by everyone who participates.
Prep in Advance
Before you bring your children into the kitchen, do some prep work first. If you need to do things that are not necessarily safe for kids – like chopping vegetables – you should do so before you start the cooking process. By getting the tougher stuff out of the way first, you can focus on monitoring your child during the rest of the process. Plus, you won’t need to worry about anyone’s safety while you’re at it.
Talk About Kitchen Safety
Cooking with your kids is also a great opportunity to teach them a safety lesson. Think about the things they should know (and can understand) about the kitchen, and talk to them about those concerns before you start. Some topics you might want to discuss include:
- Not touching the stove or burners
- Walking with knife tips facing down
- Using pot holders to pick up pots and pans from the stove and oven
- Keeping fingers out of the way when cutting food
- Keeping hair away from burners and flames
- Not eating food off surfaces that have touched raw ingredients
- Keeping pot handles turned inward, away from the edge of the stove
Cook With Food They Can Sample
When you are cooking with kids, you want them to be engaged in the experience. Take advantage of any opportunity to expand their palate by using ingredients they can sample as you cook. Of course, they will also want to eat the finished product! Throughout the process, you can appeal to your children’s senses by giving them small tastes of the safe ingredients that go into dishes. They can try produce, sauces, spices and more as you add them into your dish. Your children may just find a food they didn’t even know they liked!
Give Them Their Own Workspace Away from Hot Surfaces
As much as possible, try to keep your children away from hot surfaces while you cook. This means they should not be working near the stove, slow cooker, oven, hot plate, etc. If you are giving your children jobs to do – like mixing, smashing, peeling and more – set up a workspace that is far away from anything hot. That way, your child won’t accidentally bump into or encounter something that can cause a burn – and he or she will feel important having a designated space.
Stick With Age-Appropriate Tasks
Cooking requires fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and more. When assigning your child tasks in the kitchen, make sure you choose ones that are age-appropriate – not something that will be too much of a challenge. For example, kids ages 2-3 should do tasks like rinse produce, pour ingredients into bowls and stir batter. Kids ages 4-6 can do more complex tasks, like cut soft foods with plastic or dull knives, measure ingredients in measuring cups, whisk a mixture and squeeze citrus fruits. Cooking in the kitchen should be a learning experience for kids, but it should not be frustrating or risky for them.
Accept the Mess and Put Them on Clean-Up Duty
The fact of the matter is that kids are just plain messy. When you choose to cook with young kids, you will have a much easier time if you accept the fact that you’ll probably end up with a mess on your hands. So, as you cook, let ingredients spill, splatter and spread, and don’t make too much effort to clean as you go. Instead, teach your children that cleaning is just a part of the cooking process; after the meal, put them on cleanup crew to help you mop, sweep, dust and make sure the dishes get done.
Excellent Idea for Cooking With Young Children: Pizza-Making!
One great activity that engages children of all ages is pizza making. You can prep the ingredients ahead of time so all of the chopping with sharp knives is done; then, let you children engage in each step of the process with you. Have them help you roll or toss the dough, spread the sauce, sprinkle the cheese and lay on the toppings. Once you handle the actual baking (and the slicing) of the pizza, everyone can enjoy their own creations! Pizza is also a great meal for children since it does not require a knife and fork to eat with – just your hands!