I love this picture – it’s actually from a photo shoot for a magazine I was invited to be a part of in 2011 – Hy-Vee Seasons Magazine. I, along with my very own kids, were featured as part of an article on tomatoes and how to get your kids in the kitchen. It was a lot of fun, most of the time was spent in hair and makeup, and then taking shots of us making pizza in the kitchen. Ahh, if life in the kitchen was this perfect.
From the very beginning, I always wanted my kids in the kitchen with me. Sometimes it got a little out of control, like the time my son, who was two at the time, got his three fingers stuck in the mandolin blades – those super sharp blades that grate cheese were just small enough for his fingers to slide in. And we had to slide them back out – like grating a cheese block. Not a pretty picture. And it happened in an instant, literally seconds as we were standing right there. After a visit to the ER to cauterize the nail beds so they would finally stop bleeding, and a wrapped hand and lots of tears (by both him and his parents), I put anything remotely sharp as high as they could go in the kitchen. Did I mention I was about 8 months pregnant at the time and had the stomach flu while this all happened?
But with one bad memory, comes many good ones. One of my favorite ways to spend time with my kids is having them create something in the kitchen with me. It does so many things – let’s us talk about our day while doing somethings else (i.e. increases chatter), helps us have fun (most of the time), gets us quality time together and provides life skills that will one day impress or inspire. It’s also a great time to learn about food, how to cook it, where it comes from, how to read a nutrition label, what the ingredients in a recipe are, math fractions, and more. The kitchen is a classroom.
The important part – invite them into the kitchen with you. Let them do, don’t shoo. It’s more fun to be together in the kitchen, not alone.
Five jobs your child can do in the kitchen:
- Wash and scrub produce. Get them a kid-size colander, scrub brush and a sink filled with water and they will love it.
- Younger elementary age kids can slice soft fruits with your supervision. My favorite knife to use is a plastic lettuce knife or disposable plastic knife. Sharp enough to cut the fruit but not likely to do much damage to the skin. Of course, teaching your kids the right way to slice and dice is important using the claw and saw method. And as your kids get older, they can move on to harder, more dense fruits and vegetables.
- Follow a recipe. Whether it’s a simple visual drawing or a recipe with a few steps, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is no more steps in the recipe than the years the child is old. Keep it simple.
- Stir and mix, tear and layer – anything that allows kids to use their CLEAN hands is a winning combination. Adult tools in the kitchen can be too big or bulky to handle, and their hands are just the right size. Making meatballs, hamburger or salmon burgers, stretching dough are just a few examples, being flexible to what would work better with smaller hands is key. Let them use their hands!
- Plan meals. Kids of all ages can give their input on what to make each week – involving them in the planning, shopping and cooking can be fun if you are flexible, a character trait I continue to try to develop since my daughter often requests dessert after each and every meal. She would eat it as a meal if she could.
I would much rather cook with my family in the kitchen cooking with me, than cook alone. It makes for a happier kitchen, a happier mom and a happier family meal.
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