Cooking with your kids is incredibly rewarding. You get to pass down family recipes, watch them develop important skills, all while instilling healthy habits they’ll have the rest of their life. Of course, kitchen’s aren’t exactly known for being “kid friendly.” Hot surfaces, sharp knives… talk about Hell’s Kitchen! There are ways to safely teach your children about cooking where you can gradually work them up to more challenging tasks as they grow. The trick is having them help with the skills that match their motor skills at their age.
Measure Twice (ages 2 and up)
There’s not many ways your kid can hurt himself with a measuring cup. Having them help portion out the ingredients is a safe way to introduce them to the kitchen. Explain to them the importance of using the right amounts of ingredients so they know how crucial their step is. A bonus is the cognitive skills they’ll gain from completing a real world math application.
If you fear that your child’s miscalculations may mess up your recipe, it’s perfectly acceptable to give them a separate set of ingredients. At this point, it’s more important to have your child become familiar with how food is made and the ingredients that make their favorite dishes.
Mix It Up (ages 3 and up)
As your child becomes more independent in the kitchen, they’ll want to take on more responsibilities. Mixing is safe and fun for kids. Plus, that’s less arm work you have to do! This is also a great stage for kids to become familiar with new ingredients. When they work with something firsthand, it won’t be intimidating on the plate. Stirring allows your child to see, touch, and smell ingredients and how an entire meal comes together.
Making the Cut (age 5+)
As your child enters elementary school-age, their motor skills are developed enough to start practicing safe knife skills. Note: a child should NEVER use a knife unsupervised. However, when taught properly, your child will learn how to respect and use knives in a way that reduces injury altogether. Establish ground rules when it comes to knives. Let your children know it is never acceptable to handle knives alone. Teach them the proper way to pass a knife from one person to another and make sure they know why it is done that way.
Of course, it’s hard to teach a child to chop properly if you don’t know yourself. Refresh yourself on kitchen knife basics and come into the lesson prepared.
The Big Kid Stuff (ages 8+)
At this age, your child is surely comfortable in the kitchen and familiar with the ingredients you use regularly. Chances are, they are probably dying to try out a recipe on their own. A great option for kids is scrambled eggs. They are simple, delicious, and only contain a few ingredients you probably have on hand.
Of course, you will need to monitor the process; a child should never use a stove unsupervised. It’s also important to teach them patience when a recipe doesn’t work out the first time. Just think of it as one of those great lessons in the kitchen that also translate into real life.
BONUS: Safety in the Kitchen
When you bring a child in the kitchen, it’s important to make things as accident resistant as possible. With little ones around, use the back burners that are harder for them to reach. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand to put out flames in case of an emergency. A first aid kit should be handy with plenty of bandages and ointment that treats burns. Finally, talk to your child about safety in the kitchen and lead by example. In the end, they’ll want to do as you do most of all.
Teaching your child how to cook helps build your relationship as well as healthy habits. You can introduce different kitchen skills based on your child’s age, increasing the difficulty as they grow. Most of all, it’s important to supervise your child and practice best safety measures. Talking to your kid and leading by example will ensure they learn how to use a kitchen safely and love it all the while.