8 Tips to Help Kids Feel at Home in the Kitchen

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With all the talk of how we should help kids stay healthy, my mind keeps returning to the same idea: Teach them to cook! In my home, the kitchen is an extension of the family room, and my three preteen boys have helped me cook since they were small. Teaching your kids to cook doesn’t mean that you have to turn them loose on their own. It just means letting them play an active role in meal planning, preparation--and cleanup. Training petite chefs is easy. Here are eight tips to get you started:

  1. Keep it clean. Teach good sanitation habits early. Teach them the basic hand washing techniques--I always tell my culinary school students to sing one round of “Happy Birthday” while washing their hands. Even though your kitchen is not a professional one, encourage the dress of a chef: hair pulled back, no jewelry, and closed-toe shoes.

  2. Mix it up. Start them with mixing and kneading tasks. Herb blends and spice rubs are a great idea as a first mixing experience--just makes sure they wash their hands when finished and keep hands away from eyes and mouths if any hot spices are involved.

  3. Savor the experience. I would encourage you to start with savory ingredients and save the sweet recipes for later. Remember when you started feeding your infant real food and the pediatrician suggested starting with vegetables? It's the same principle. One of my first memories in the kitchen with my mother was making chicken pot pie--it is still one of my favorites! For a healthier version try this made-over chicken pot pie.

  4. Sweeten the deal. Once you are ready to move to sweet recipes, I would start with smoothies--let them experiment with different flavors. Try adding some protein and fiber to the mixes by adding yogurt, ground flax seed or wheat germ. Encourage eating of the season by selecting seasonal fruits and vegetables. Visit local you-pick-it farms so that they see where the food is coming from, or better yet, start your own garden.

  5. Herbal remedy. Bits of unidentified green objects on a plate can be intimidating to a child. Purchase herb clippers and ask your petite chef to help with the meal by cutting fresh herbs. If you don’t have the clippers, just use a clean pair of kitchen scissors. Encourage them to taste each herb and tell them which flavors pair well with which foods.

  6. Start chopping. When your chef is ready to cut vegetables with a knife, choose a small ,non-serrated paring knife. Start with semi-soft vegetables and fruits like cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, bananas, and peaches. Once they feel comfortable with these, move to harder, dense vegetables like carrots or potatoes. I would reserve any very hard winter root vegetables such as butternut squash or yams for adult hands only. Try my Roasted Root Vegetables as a way to get kids to try new vegetables.

  7. Make it a teaching moment. Make the experience an extension of the classroom. One of my fondest memories with my mother was International week at my grade school. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I choose France and asked my mother to help me make chocolate éclairs. The basic éclairs are made with pate au choux pastry dough--a big undertaking for an 11 year old, but with her help they were a success. I remember how she helped me multiply the recipe so that we tripled the ingredients to make enough for the whole class. I did not know it at the time, but it was a valuable lesson in math. Now with my own children, the world has changed and foods brought from home are not encouraged in their school due to food allergies. So I have taken that same concept and applied it at home creating an International Day. We let our kids pick a foreign country and have them research the native dishes. We make a field trip to an international grocery store and explore. Chicken Enchilada Stacker is a great beginners recipe--though they'll need some help from mom or dad.

  8. Choices, choices, choices! The more variety you offer, the more likely your kids will eat a variety of foods. Don’t be discouraged if they won’t try or don’t like the new foods the first time. According to research, it may take up to five times of trying a new food to accept the flavor and texture. One way I make this possible with my kids is that once a week we have a “Build Your Own Night.” Whether it is tacos, sandwiches, or salads, we pull together as many healthy ingredients that we can find in the kitchen to offer as much variety as possible.

    Our favorite is Pasta Night: My kids love pasta night. I prepare whole grain pasta, and we steam broccoli, carrots, and asparagus--really anything that is in season. I sauté chopped tomatoes, mushrooms and onions and grate hard cheese (like Parmesan or Romano). You can even add chopped, cooked chicken breasts, browned lean ground beef or turkey or even lean sausage. Then everyone jumps in to create their own “pasta ala me” dish! (This is a great way to make one meal into two--the next morning you can make a vegetable-stuffed omelet or create a quick vegetable puree that you can use in soups or spreads for sandwiches.)

What was the first recipe you ever cooked with your children? Do you cook with them regularly? If so, what are your favorite foods to cook together?

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We cook with our kids all the time. One of the earliest things they helped cook was Macaroni and Cheese. We put the 2 year old and the 3 1/2 year old up on the kitchen counter (Now don't yell at me that sitting on a counter is dangerous, we always supervised them closely and this way they could see) with the bowls of cheese, peas and other ingredients. Granted at that age they "helped" by snacking on the frozen peas, but now at ages 6 and 7 1/2 they have progressed to measuring, adding ingredients, peeling, and stirring. I've even started teaching the younger one how to cut since he is more interested in cooking than his older brother.

Ari Report
I do not have any kids but I do have my cousins boyfriends girls. The only thing we made so far was sugar cookies. That is always fun. Hopefully if my neice or nephew comes along sometime soon I will be able to cook with them. So jealous ;) Report
The first thing I've cooked with each of my kids is bread. They can measure the ingredients, they are fascinated with seeing the yeast proof, and they can knead and shape the dough. It's also inexpensive to make, fairly forgiving of "mistakes," and everyone loves hot bread! Report
I have 5 children and all of them can cook. I did not start at an early age but by 10 I had them helping me. I liked the idea of starting them younger, maybe when I have grandkids. Report
Mother didn't really have the patience to teach, but she did encourage us to do things ourselves. I remember bringing home the Betty Crocker cookbook from our local library and teaching myself to cook. The first thing I made myself was little Fudge Tarts. Report
I really enjoyed this blog. I have 3 kids, 6,4,3 years old. Cooking can be messy with these willing and rambunctious little helpers. I do let my 6 year old help with measuring, and I use it as a teachable moment (fractions). My 4 year old does a lot of mixing, and my 3 year old is our "go-fer", throwing away refuse, fetching the next ingredient and putting things back in the fridge. It's funny, I use scissors all the time in the kitchen, but it never occurred to me to give them to my kids! My kids love healthy food and literally dance for celery, but maybe that's thanks to the Wonder Pets. Report
I learned how to cook at an early age and have begun to pass on the tradition to my daughter. It's really great now that my grandparents are my next door neighbors. It's a site to behold when four generations of women (my grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter) are in the kitchen cooking together. It's so much fun and creates memories that will last a lifetime! Report
My 6-year-old step-daughter has been helping me in the kitchen since she was 3. She's a master at folding, breading/dredging, and zesting. I got her a small plastic paring knife that she uses to chop tomatoes and garlic. But even when she does chop the herbs, does not mean she will eat them! Report
I don't have kids but loved this blog, I love to cook and definitely plan to implement these tips when I do have my own children. Report
I love cooking with my husband and teaching him some tricks (not a kid) but it's still fun to share the moments and introduce new foods! I can't wait until I have nieces/nephews to cook with as well. Report
I cook with my granddaughter every chance I get as her mother does not like to cook. Sometimes the kitchen gets messy but it is worth the extra clean up time, spending this time with my granddaughter. My granddaughter enjoys the time as well and does not want to share this time as she has a sister that is a year old, which my granddaughter claims her sister is not going to like to cook! Report
I remember my grandmother teaching me to cook. She use to give me my own little ball of pie dough crust to knead and roll out, it was a lot of fun, of course I was only 5 then, but as I grew older she allowed me more responsibilities in the kitchen and taught me how to plan meals. Starting children off at a young age with cooking is best and continuing as they grow older with more responsibilities will build a good cook. Report
My grand daughters learned how to make whole wheat pizza w/fresh vegs. and of course whole wheat mac & cheese. Our next project is to make homemade vegetable soup. They love to help in the kitchen, they also eat better when they help make the food. More fresh vegetables go in them then on the pizza, but isn't that the whole point of getting them involve? LOL Report
I always invite my son, now 7 to cook with me, because my parents kitchen was always open to me as a child and like you have many fond memories. I also had read that if you get your child involved with cooking the meals, they will be more agreeable to eating what is served, ah... I wish that were true. My son is very excited about fixing foods and the wide variety of foods that is prepared, but he will not try anything beyond his limited menu. If it is something new, he refuses to try it. I am hoping this is a phase that he will outgrow. hoping.....hoping.......hoping Report
my mom never taught me to cook which is the soul purpose of me teaching myself. when I got out on my own, I grabbed a recipe and just made a go of it. soon I was trying all kinds of recipes. altering them, adding my own flavors etc. now I NEVER follow a recipe without doing my own thing. it's fun!! Report
I wasn't allowed in the kitchen when Mom & Grandma cooked, so I never learned. I'm lucky enough to have married a great cook, but I really am not a good cook at all. This has inspired me to get the kids in the kitchen though! I may not be able to teach them much, but this is a great opportunity for Daddy time! :) Report
pizza with my little baby 10 month , she help me in making the dough , but flour was flying all over the kitchen Report
I find it amazing the number of people who say they "can't" cook! My mom interested me in cooking by telling me stories (probably not true) of how my dad had to eat awful meals when they first got married because she didn't know how to cook. We had cookbooks in the kitchen and I read Betty Crocker cover to cover and also a Reader's Digest Japanese cookbook that was very influential because it emphasized the importance of feeding the eyes as well as the stomach, I have always tried to arrange food nicely on a plate instead of just dishing it out every which way. Report
All four of my kids cook. In fact, my two boys do most of the cooking for their wives. They also like everything including fruits, vegetables, and salads. I attribute this to them being involved in the preparation of meals as soon as they were old enough to stand on a chair and help. Our youngest used to "make the cottage cheese" when she was about 2. This involved dumping the cheese into a bowl out of the container it came in and adding a little dried onion and pepper. It also creates a lot of great memories for parents and children. Report
I don't have kids yet, but I love this article! I was just thinking today about how comfortable my mom made me with cooking from a young age... kneading bread, chopping veggies, making tomatoes into sauce, etc. I learned to bake because I wanted sweet things, but because my mom only had whole wheat flour and honey in the house (not even brown sugar) that was pretty healthy too! I still turn to bean soup as my "comfort food" today and I credit a lot of my health today to the way I grew up. And of course knowing how to cook makes it so much easier for me to eat healthfully now! Report
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