My kitchen is always messy.
And when it is at it's cleanest I know it is only a matter of minutes before it is demolished again. Why? Because my four-year-old son is helping me cook dinner that night.
I really feel having your kids in the kitchen is important -even if you just have them help ventilate the plastic on that frozen lasagna using a fork.
And the benefits outweigh all of the spilled tomato sauce, grated cheese and flour I have cleaned up off the counters and floor.
Why should you let your small children help you in the kitchen?
Broadens their culinary imagination
My son has a small play kitchen and loves to use it. When he was tiny, he would make coffee and cookies, because we had tea parties. Now he makes burgers, dinner, breakfast…. all with that same cup of coffee. He may have a plastic chicken leg on that burger and make soup with pretend grape soda, but he's imitating what we have done in the kitchen together.
Gets them to eat different things
One of the best advice I've hear over and over with picky eaters is letting them help pick out food in an attempt to have them try new things. Making a new meal? Have them help pick out the vegetables, stir the sauce, and sprinkle a little extra cheese to get them involved with a new food. They will probably want to try a couple bites of ‘their' work.
This can backfire- I let my son make Nigella Lawson's recipe for ‘Sunshine Soup' with me one afternoon. We talked about water when it simmered and boiled, he dumped in the corn, salted and peppered… and then still refused the soup because “soup is for when you are sick”. We're still working on it.
Teaches them life skills
I read someone on Facebook a few weeks ago bemoaning that they were the only one that cooked in their family. I will not have that problem when my boys are older because my son is already learning to make sandwiches, look at recipes (I read them for him) and taste foods to make sure they are done. It may be a lot of work now but the day he takes over a night for dinner I will be celebrating all of this time spent in the kitchen talking about tools and ingredients.
Makes them feel important
When you are four, there are only so many things you can do. Everyone in the neighborhood is faster than my son on scooters, everyone is taller, and he doesn't have a say when it's time to go to bed. But helping pick out dinner and cook it? Helps build confidence and a sense of accomplishment, even when his biggest job is scooping frozen peas into a dish.
Kitchens as classrooms
What better place to learn cause and effect than in the kitchen. What happens when dry mixes into wet? When water gets hot? When frozen food is heated up? Ingredients lists become a place to learn fractions (how many scoops from this make one cup?) And why do we put yeast in bread? Talk your way through the process and let them guess what it will look like.
So many of us have favorite moments with a grandmother or other family member cooking together. It wasn't as much the cookies that made it wonderful as it was the time spent together. Talking together, working together, even if they are just sitting on a stool watching you cook over the stove is quality time together.
Want to try having them help more in the kitchen? Here are a few tips to get you going (all with parental supervision)
- Mixing in a bowl (for littles, pick a little bit bigger than needed to help keep the food inside
- Sprinkling cheese or toppings before baking pizza
- Counting out ingredients as you add it in (the eggs, scoops of flour, etc.)
- Picking the vegetables for dinner
- Pulsing ingredients in a stand mixer
- Tasting and smelling ingredients as they go in (herbs, stock, etc.)