Q: I hear cooking with your kids helps them try new foods, but I don’t know where to start and it’s overwhelming.
Guy Fieri, a highly recognized chef, emphasizes that “cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.”
While I may not be a restaurateur, as a registered dietitian, I can vouch that there are tons of benefits that come from cooking with your little ones. From family bonding to fostering creativity to practicing math skills, cooking is an interactive way to improve your child’s confidence and get familiar with foods. Plus, cooking with your youngster encourages them to try new ingredients, diversifying their palates and helping them become more adventurous eaters. While the process can be overwhelming at first, these must-know tips will help you get the kitchen party started.
For any parent, safety is the most critical factor when involving their child in the kitchen. Here are some tips to keep in mind when your sous-chef is on duty/
- Always supervise the stove when it’s in use.
- Do not leave your child solo in the kitchen.
- Practice proper food safety.
- Keep sharp objects and appliances out of reach.
- Make sure all kitchen tasks that your kid is involved with are developmentally appropriate.
Ask Where Help Is Wanted
Which meal-prep task does your little helper naturally gravitate toward? After all, putting a balanced dish together takes more than simply cooking. It first requires selecting a recipe, going to the grocery store, and prepping the ingredients. Guide your children toward success. For example, when choosing a recipe, make sure the main ingredients are foods they like and the new ingredients are accents. This will help increase the likelihood of them trying and enjoying it. When heading off to buy the ingredients, serve a healthy balanced snack, so you’re not battling with impulse purchases due to hunger. When preparing to cook, first get all the ingredients out, then measure them together. This avoids the stress of scrambling to find a timely ingredient and teaches your child steps and organization.
When trying to integrate your youngster into the kitchen, walk them through the process and see which step intrigues them the most. Perhaps your child wants to help pick out the produce at the grocery store or farmers market. Or they might prefer to help wash the produce—building food familiarity through feel and touch. So, even if your child is not immediately drawn to the cooking process, don’t worry! Your kiddo is still building on their skill set by getting exposed to different foods, where they come from, and how to manipulate each ingredient—ultimately making them more likely to try it once it’s on the table.
Keep It Simple
Remember, the goal is to try new foods and gain more independence, not necessarily create a Michelin-starred chef. Start small with tasks such as rinsing and scrubbing produce, adding ingredients to mixing bowls, stirring, cutting herbs with kitchen scissors, and pouring with assistance.
As both the head and sous chef become more comfortable, you can expand responsibilities to setting the table, cracking eggs, and doing simple measurements. Set your child up for success by building confidence in the kitchen to foster a positive relationship with food and mealtime, and you’ll see new skills unfold overtime.
Set your child up for success by building confidence in the kitchen to foster a positive relationship with food and mealtime.
My mom teaches each grandchild how to make an omelet. As they grow, their taste buds and skill set expand. You can taste and see how the omelets improve over time with more veggies, new herbs, and various cheese types. Create your family traditions, and soon your kids will be cooking for you!
Patience Is Key
Cooking with your youngsters can be overwhelming. It’s best not to involve them on a day where you are rushing to put dinner on the table or have a household of hangry eaters. As parents, you don’t want this activity to add to your stress. Instead, opt for a time when the house is typically in slow mode or when you have extra time available for the cooking process.
The kitchen should be a positive environment for your child to create happy memories, develop lifelong skills, and nurture a possible newfound passion. Cooking under stress and getting frustrated with your sous chef will definitely not help dinnertime cooperation, willingness to try new foods, or anyone’s mood. Remember, kids aren’t adults, and their attention span wavers from day to day, much like their appetite or willingness to try something new. Celebrate all wins, from your child getting to push the blender switch (then leaving to play with toys) or staying involved until the meal is in the oven. It all counts toward cooking!
Every adult who loves to cook reminisces about the moments spent in the kitchen with their parents or grandparents. While getting your kiddo involved in the cooking process can awaken their inner-adventurous eater, it also provides them with snack and mealtime independence and memories that will last forever. While it may be a stressful process at first, enjoy the moment. And, don’t forget to kiss the cook!
About the Author
Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian and founder of superkidsnutrition.com, the first kids’ nutrition expert website, and creator of the Super Crew®, who get their powers from healthy colorful foods. Check out her books for kids and families: Healthy Eating for Families, the Ultimate Guide for Kids, Parents, and Educators, the Super Crew’s Breakfast Cookbook for Kids, 50 Tasty Recipes, and 100+ Fun Nutrition Activities, and her Plant-Based Boost books for adults. Melissa spoke at this year’s Beyond the Lunchbox about “Using Parenting Styles to Make Fun and Tasty Plant-Based Meals for Kids.”