If food is love, there’s no better way to show your love and share that joy than to bring your kids into the kitchen with you. Busy parents trying to put food on the table may find it difficult to involve their children in meal preparation, but setting aside time to connect and create meals together can be a lifetime gift.
When to start
Many parents concerned about safety (and cleanliness and time) wonder when is the right time to bring their children into the kitchen to help out. Chef Ofri Gilan, cooking instructor, entertainer and owner of Asheville Mountain Kitchen thinks parents should put their kids in the kitchen as soon as they show interest.
“Tap on their curiosity and jump at the chance to hang out with them and enjoy their wonder,” Gilan said.
Chef/instructor Brian Ross of The Asheville Kitchen said preschoolers can usually come in and help out.
“Of course, all children develop differently, but I remember making pasta with my son when he was 4,” Ross said. “Even if they don’t understand all facets of what’s going on in the kitchen, this exposure at a young age can help.”
What tasks can they do?
Once in the kitchen, keep tasks at an age-appropriate level and let kids learn along the way.
“Some of the best things kids can do to get started in the kitchen are clean up and measure things,” Ross said. “Cleaning, like literally washing fruits and vegetables, but also removing stems and seeds, is easy and fun. Measuring starts with understanding quantities and the need for precision.
Gilan recommends giving very young children a piece of dough (even playdough) so they feel like they’re working with you, by your side.
“They can sort the beans, roll out the dough, even chop,” Gilan said. “There are specific kitchen knives designed for children with safety features. More than anything, children want your time. It won’t be perfect and it might be messy, but it’s great for kids to spend time with you and learn with you.
What tools can children use?
Ross, who teaches summer cooking camps for kids, gives her students a goody bag of useful cooking utensils at the end of camp.
“I put in the things that I think they can use the most that are basic for beginner cooks – measuring cups and spoons, a plastic scraper, a wooden spoon, a whisk and a good spatula,” Ross said.
Gilan said parents can get kids started with simple tools like a pizza cutter, tongs and specialty kids’ knives.
What recipes are good for young cooks?
Gilan said she speaks with many parents who are only comfortable with baking.
“I encourage parents to go beyond just baking and not being afraid to dig in the kitchen,” she said. “I would advise parents to look for recipes with simple ingredients and processes, like roasted vegetables, pizzas and pastas.”
Ross agreed that simple recipes with basic techniques are a great place to start.
“I love recipes where kids learn how to fold, how to whip, what it means to cream something like butter and sugar, how to mix and knead dough,” Ross said. “I often start kids out with pizza dough, cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and a whipped cream pound cake that requires multiple techniques.”
What’s the value of putting our kids in the kitchen early?
Yes, it can mean that meal prep takes longer, but taking the time to teach and discover with kids in the kitchen can create hands-on lessons that last a lifetime.
“Connecting with your kids shows them your love, and helping them create and cook in the kitchen is so valuable,” Gilan said. “I think it’s empowering for children to learn how to prepare food, where it comes from, and to feel good about being able to prepare it themselves. You also teach them good habits for life.
“There’s an element to the kitchen that’s more fun for kids — and adults for that matter — when they feel comfortable in their surroundings,” Ross said. “Being exposed to the different basic foods, equipment, workspaces, and techniques helps accomplish that feeling sooner rather than later. I work with a lot of adults who want to learn more cooking skills, who say they are intimidated by anything they perceive as cooking. So I think the earlier that facility is achieved in the kitchen at a young age, the greater the chance that a spark of interest will develop.