As a professional mom who loves to cook, it has been important to me to make sure that my kiddo learns her way around the kitchen. But as a professional mom, I also know that the kitchen, especially when getting dinner to the table on a weeknight, can be a really stressful place. So here are a few tips based on the things I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made:
1) Every kid is different. Their interests are different. Their progress is different. Some are picky. Some (like mine) eat everything. Don’t try to force them to become 5 year old gourmets.
2) Start early and start small. Give them chores in the kitchen appropriate for their age. Start with putting away silverware from the dishwasher and move on to setting the table and clearing plates once you know they aren’t going to spill everything and give you more work!
3) Grow their skills. Playdough translates really well to braiding challah. Meatballs are like mud pies. Let them scoop the cookies or use the cookie cutters. Let them scramble the eggs. Kids can do a lot when given the chance. The truth is that my kiddo is actually better at folding dumplings than I am.
Here are a few recipes my kiddo has helped on and loves – click and watch her braid challah like a pro!
4) Let them play with your food. I let my kiddo pick out frosting colors and decorate my baked goods. Sometimes that means I end up with a peanut butter cake that is turquoise. Sometimes sprinkles make a mess all over the place. Or my chocolate cake gets covered in pink candy hearts.
5) Sneak in math. The kitchen is full of it. Count eggs as you add them. Create subtraction problems – if we need 200 grams of sugar and the scale says 100 grams, how much more do we need? Convert tablespoons to teaspoons. Or make half a recipe and work on division and fractions. Math practice is never a bad thing, and mostly they don’t even notice!
6) Trust, but watch closely. They are eventually going to learn how to work a knife or cook on the cooktop, just like they’re eventually going to learn how to drive a car. Teach them well with lots of initial supervision, but eventually they’ll have to go off on their own.
7) Let some kitchen time be theirs. Have your kids pick kitchen projects from a cookbook or a blog. We’ve gotten a few baking and cooking subscriptions over the years because my kiddo really loves getting mail. If it’s her project to make strawberry heart pop tarts and not mine, I don’t stress about what they are supposed to look like or whether there’s jam leaking out the sides.
8) Don’t do it on a weeknight. I cannot say this enough. A night when you have to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes is not the time to teach your kiddo how to do something complicated. Cooking with kids takes at least twice as long, if not more.
9) Encourage their spark. When my kiddo said she wanted to create her own pasta recipe, I said yes. When she told me that pasta recipe was going to be bacon jam on top of angel hair pasta, I was skeptical, but I said I would help. If things don’t work out? There’s always breakfast for dinner. In this case, it was absolutely delicious.
10) Have fun.
Joanne Stekler is an academic infectious diseases physician who lives in Seattle with her partner and elementary school-age daughter.. She started her blog – uglyducklngbakery.com – in January 2021 to share recipes and insights from her kitchen. Her motto is that it’s more important for food to be delicious and shared with love than for it to look perfect.