When I tell people that I teach 2-year-old kids how to cook, they look at me like I have three heads. For many parents, just making a home-cooked meal can feel overwhelming without adding kids into the picture. Yet the return on investment from cooking with kids is pretty compelling when you look at both the short-term and long-term benefits. Mini chefs are more likely to eat what they make and become more adventurous about trying new foods. By the age of 8, they can make simple meals such as scrambled eggs. By 10 years old, they can help prepare dinner before you get home from work.
Learning this important life skill early also means they will be able to cook for themselves in college and will one day make an awesome spouse. When they prepare an entire meal for your birthday, not that far in the future — like one of my teen students recently did — the flour-spattered ceiling, bites of eggshell and misshapen cookies will all be worth it.
Tips on cooking with kids without losing your mind:
1. Create a kids cooking station. Seat them at the dinner table or counter away from the heat so that you can whip up dinner with minimal interference.
2. Start small. Give toddlers little tasks that won’t slow down your meal preparation, such as stirring or rinsing off vegetables. You can increase their responsibilities as they age.
3. Give yourself plenty of time and multitask. Take advantage of those long days off from school and find a few recipes for them to cook that just happen to result in a family dinner.
4. Create the menu together. Encourage kids to explore cookbooks and websites for recipes. The more invested they are in the meal, the less likely they’ll whine about it.
5. Keep cleaning equipment close by. Enlisting kids in the cleanup will make the experience more pleasant for everyone — and teach them another essential life skill!
6. Invite a confident cook to help. If you’re a kitchen novice, this is an ideal time to learn alongside your kids. If you’re a confident cook, you’ll have some extra help.
7. Sign up for parent-and-kid cooking classes. You’ll pick up teaching tips, kid-friendly recipes and possibly new family friends.
8. Praise them. Providing for our kin is such a primal urge that kids feel an immediate sense of pride and self-worth when they feed their families, so make sure to gush over their hard work.
9. Accept that not all kids like to cook. Your noncooking kids can still contribute to the meal by washing produce, cleaning off cans, setting the table, folding napkins, deciding which platters to use, garnishing the dishes, clearing the table and tasting each dish to determine if it needs additional seasoning.
Julie Negrin, M.S., is a nutritionist, writer, speaker and educator. She has been teaching adults and kids how to cook for 15 years. For more information on cooking with kids, visit Julie’s site at www.julienegrin.com, where you can also purchase her cookbook, Easy Meals to Cook with Kids. Follow on Twitter @julienegrin.