Cooking with Kids for Connection

Melissa offers tried-and-true tips for meaningful cooking with your little ones.
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As a mom of four, I’m a big fan of cooking with my kiddos. It demystifies ingredients (particularly healthy ones), teaches them an important skill (cooking our own food) and encourages a more adventurous palate. Perhaps my favorite part of cooking with my daughters, though, is the quality time I get with them, either as a group or one-on-one. Cooking requires just enough concentration to keep us all engaged, while leaving enough space for those open-ended conversations that turn into special mom-daughter moments I treasure. If you are looking for your child to open up about school or life in general, cook with him or her and watch the magic happen.

The trick to turning cooking time into quality connection time is simple: Treat it like arts and crafts. In order to create the kind of space that encourages the kids to open up, carve out time for leisurely cooking that has no timetable or end in mind — cooking for its own sake, not just as a means to an end. In other words, I don’t try to push deep conversation with my 10-year-old as I race around at 6 p.m. frantically getting dinner on the table before we head out to soccer practice. In fact, if my 8-year-old asks to “help” with dinner and I am in a rush, my strategy is to give her a somewhat nonessential task that will keep her away from the main kitchen zone where I need to move around quickly. When my kids were younger, that usually meant pouring the applesauce into a serving bowl and stirring in cinnamon, or designing a crudite platter. Now that they are older, I have them design the table layout and fold the napkins creatively or pick out all the serving platters and bowls.

Consider setting up a cooking date with one of your kids. Think of it not as a means to an end, but as the end itself, and suddenly the result won’t matter as much. Let it get messy like painting would be messy, because that’s how your kids will learn to crack eggs. Let the plating be less than perfect — call it “rustic” and you’re all set. Let the kids flip through a cookbook with pictures and pick out the recipe. Let it be about the joy of spending time together, working on the same side of a fun, loosely set goal. My final tip: Don’t schedule something for right afterward, because chances are you’ll need a little extra time to do dishes and get the kitchen back into shape.

Check out some of my favorite kid-friendly recipes to try out with your little ones:

Magic Fruit-and-Veggie Cupcakes (featured in Food Network Magazine)
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