Muffins that my little baker made by herself.  She was so proud when they came out as expected!

Muffins that my little baker made by herself. She was so proud when they came out as expected!

I’ve had my kids helping out in the kitchen since they were old enough to sit up. It goes without saying that cooking with kids will take longer in the beginning… sometimes much longer… and will be messier… much messier.  Yet, totally worth it. Beside the obvious (bonding with your child; kitchen chemistry; lessons in counting, measuring, and fractions; talks about nutrition) there are some awesome future payoffs.  Help in the kitchen!  My kids, now seven and 10, can help prepare part, sometimes all, of a meal.  I can ask them to make a salad with dinner, for example, while I pause to clean up a little. We can pack lunches and they can do some (or all) of it. My seven year old can make breakfast almost by herself, which both excites and scares me. And, confidence!  The other day my older daughter made muffins by herself, from start to finish.  When they came out of the oven, smelling amazing and looking even better, she marveled over the fact they came out as they were supposed to.  My little one frequently chooses recipes and handles a side dish by herself as I make a breakfast or dinner. Your kids can, too!

If your kids haven’t any kitchen experience yet, where should you begin?  First, start simple.  You measure, they pour.  Stir together.  Demonstrate kitchen safety and some guidelines (what not to try alone, for example), and then let them cut and chop using butter knives. Show them how to set the timer, turn on the oven, properly stir and mix. Next, brainstorm. What are your kids favorite snacks or dishes? Look through a cookbook together, and let your child pick out something he’d like to try making with you. Don’t get too ambitious initially, but definitely let your child take the lead in what he’d like to try so that you tap into some excitement and ownership.

After my daughter helped make pancakes, she arranged them into a funny face and took a picture.  I don't know where she got the idea to photograph her food!  ;)

After my daughter helped make pancakes, she arranged them into a funny face and took a picture. I don’t know where she got the idea to photograph her food! 😉

Where to begin? (Kids can…)

Smoothies (Measure ingredients, add to blender)
Oatmeal (Measure milk or water, stir, set microwave)
Waffles/pancakes (Measure, mix, help pour batter, flip pancakes)
Fruit salad (Slice, mix)
Scrambled eggs (Crack eggs, mix, cook on stove with supervision)
Green salad (Peel, slice, toss)
Make a sandwich (PB&J, meat and cheese, whatever your child likes)
Mashed potatoes (Peel, slice, add to pot, mash once cooked)
Mac and cheese (Help boil water, strain pasta, measure ingredients)
Grilled cheese (Toast bread, measure out cheese, flip sandwiches)
Lasagna (Layer ingredients)
Baked Ziti (Mix in ingredients, top with cheese)
Quesadillas (Assemble ingredients into wraps)
Taco night (Put out bowls of toppings)
Meatballs (Mix ingredients, form meatballs)
Burgers (Mix ingredients, form burgers)
Breaded cutlets (Measure ingredients, pound cutlets, dip into breading)
Special family/holiday dishes (Give kids a task of their own)
Muffins/cookies/bread (Measure and mix ingredients, pour into pan)
Brownies/cakes (Measure and mix, pour into pan, frost once baked)

This picture is almost three years old, but it shows how long we've been cooking together.  Here we were making a pie after a trip to the orchard.

This picture is almost three years old, but it shows how long we’ve been cooking together. Here we were making a pie after a trip to the orchard.

One thing that often gets forgotten… teach kids to clean up! Instill the good habit of cleaning as you go- stacking dishes, loading the dishwasher, wiping up spills, and putting ingredients back where they came from. I always tell my kids that by the time we’re done cooking, I shouldn’t be able to tell what we’ve made, or even that we’ve ever been there. Leave no trace (or as we say in Girl Scouts, leave the space better than you found it) is an excellent philosophy to build into your lifestyle. Your kid’s future roommate or spouse will thank you!

As your little sous chef works alongside you, her confidence will build and the possibilities are endless. At first, you’ll need to supervise closely, doing each task with your child, and remind him to clean up. Eventually you can cook in tandem, and later on, you will find your child cooking alone! The investment of time and effort will come back to you again and again. Not only can you have your kids help assemble tomorrow’s school lunch while you clean up dinner, or make himself a healthy snack while you occupied elsewhere, but ultimately you’ll have kids who can cook a meal! It’s hard to imagine your little one being on her own one day, but going into the world knowing one’s way around the kitchen is a lifelong skill that results in confidence, healthy meals, and independence. I look at teaching my kids to cook and bake as one more tool that will help them succeed in the future.

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