It’s no secret that getting kids in the kitchen reaps a ton of benefits, including the a greater chance that they’ll try healthy foods, the sense of accomplishment they feel in “making” dinner for the family and the opportunity for parents to spend time with their children. That alone should be enough incentive to have them cooking three meals a day and two snacks for every family member, right?
It sounds great on paper, but how and what do you really need to get them in the kitchen and having those Norman Rockwell experiences?
1-It’s not going to be a Norman Rockwell experience. It IS going to be messy, and everything associated with it will take 10X longer than anticipated. You’ll hear yourself saying “don’t touch that” and “listen to me” a million times and it’s highly likely that very last nerve will be exposed and frazzled until there is nothing left. To add insult to injury, there’s a good chance that the food they make may not be edible. Accept it. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the journey.
2- Give them tools of their own. We’re not talking about investing big bucks in kitchen equipment- they don’t need a Santuko knife or a Kitchen Aid Mixer. They need plastic knives, kid friendly measuring spoons, whisks (my kid calls them whiskers), a small cutting board and a spatula or two. While we’ve received gift items from Williams-Sonoma, most of our kitchen tools are from IKEA and the Dollar Store. Note: chef toques and matching personalized aprons are cute, but absolutely not necessary.
3- Give them age appropriate jobs in the kitchen. If your kid is old enough to sit up, bring them into the kitchen and give them an empty pot and a spoon to bang. Start their exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of cooking as soon as possible-we eat with all five senses! Now, we’re not taking about mastering fish en papillote or grinding their own spices in a spice specific coffee grinder at age 5. Depending on their age, we’re talking about rinsing produce in the colander, “looking” at cookbooks, stirring, scooping, squeezing and setting the table. As they grow older, give them more to do.
At our house, setting the table gets my son into the kitchen daily. Does it matter that the Hanukkah placemats are out in September? No. Or that plastic sheriff’s badges adorn the plate? Nope. Or that he chose to give us baby spoons and shrimp forks for breakfast? Not at all.
Building kitchen confidence in kids (much like adults) is about managing expectations and accepting and appreciating the effort.