Getting in the kitchen with kids sounds fun in theory. It immediately evokes images of you and your child in cute aprons, smiling and laughing as you joyfully whip up a meal that would make Julia Child jealous. In reality, if your experience is anything like mine, it usually ends with me “politely” asking Matthew to leave the kitchen so I can clean up the mammoth mess we made and somehow salvage the recipe we were attempting before half of the ingredients ended up on the floor. However, after several failed attempts in the kitchen with Matthew I think I finally figured out the secret to successfully cooking with kids.
- Play the part. Kids love to dress up. Give them an apron or a chefs hat or even their own kitchen tools like a colorful spatula or measuring spoons. Get them excited about being there but use it as an opportunity to make them aware that their outfit/tools come with responsibility. They should be safe and neat in the kitchen, just like a real chef.
- Prep before they get there. This is the one that worked best for me. This could be considered cheating but it made the process go so much smoother so cheat away. Before Matthew even entered the kitchen I had the more difficult tasks, like cutting or peeling, finished. Had he been in the room while I was doing it he would have insisted on doing it himself. Having it done before he got there went unnoticed. Instead he got excited to see some of the prepped food in their own, neat, little piles on the cutting board waiting for him to have his way with them.
- Start with savory. Don’t make anything that requires exact measurements like most baked goods. One of our biggest struggles in the kitchen is getting a level scoop of flour that actually makes it into the bowl. Don’t make it more difficult. Pick recipes that wont’t be ruined if the measurements are off a little like dips, veggie wraps or granola bars.
- Go egg-free. If baked goods is what they want, pick a recipe that is egg-free so they can lick the bowl without your being concerned about potential salmonella infection from the raw eggs. With an egg-free or vegan recipe you can encourage them to lick the spoon completely worry-free. Give them whatever batter is leftover in the bowl and let them at it. Every kids dream come true.
- Let go and have fun! Don’t go in expecting to make the perfect snack, meal or dessert. Be prepared to get messy. Surrender the control. Let them take over and get creative (after you’ve cheated with the prepping). Don’t expect it to look like the picture in the cookbook. It took a team of food stylist and professional chefs to get that shot. This is their masterpiece, give them some space to create, mess up and figure it out. If you follow these 5 tips you may end up with results like these: