Working with Kids in the Kitchen
Seems like kids today rarely get the chance to learn something in the kitchen. With Home Economics classes few and far between, it’s up to all of us to teach kids how to crack an egg, chop an onion and keep a kitchen tidy. Whether you’ve got kids, preteens, tweens or teens, we’ve got you covered with some helpful tips on how to work with them in one of the home’s most important rooms.
Younger or inexperienced children (8 years or younger)
- Come up with a short list of two or three recipes for your child to pick from. Young kids enjoy choice but can be easily overwhelmed if they are given too many options at once. By prescreening the recipes, you ultimately get to control what they are making, but also get the power of choice.
- Start with recipes you are familiar with and are at everyone’s skill level. Even if your little one wants to get fancy in the kitchen, it’s best to build confidence with the tried-and-true. Find something forgiving, like a fruit crisp, Lunchbox Zucchini Bars or banana bread. Baking not your thing? Hummus and veggies, Energy Snack Bites or Ranch Turkey Wraps are easy and delicious.
- Choose smaller batch-sized recipes. Although you may love your great-grandmother’s cookie recipe, it likely makes a huge batch. Mixing large amounts of ingredients is hard enough for an adult and can be next to impossible for a young kid. Smaller recipes will be more successful with younger kids and provide a good experience all-round.
- Have all the ingredients and equipment out before offering to do anything. Young kids will likely want to start a recipe right away.
- Give yourself extra space. You may only need a small space for yourself in the kitchen, but each additional body will want their own workspace. At times like these, it’s often a good idea to work on your kitchen table.
- Start with a clean surface and don’t worry about the floor! If you are baking with your children, starting with a clean surface is always ideal (and good kitchen hygiene). Likely, by the end of the recipe, neither your counter nor your floor will be clean. Save yourself some stress and worry about the state of your floor after everything is done.
- Make sure you have easy access to a sink. Young kids have an amazing ability to get messy. In the kitchen they typically love to play with flour and sugar that has somehow spilled out of the bowl. Easy access to the sink can speed up the (likely) frequent trips to wash hands.
- Use a much larger bowl than you normally would. Kids like to stir with lots of enthusiasm, so using a larger bowl than normal stops stuff from flying over the side of the bowl.
- If possible, find tools their size. Most kitchen tools will be adult-sized and hard for small hands to use. Gifting kids smaller whisks, spatulas and flippers for birthdays and holidays will encourage them to step into the kitchen.
- Have a stool or a sturdy chair available for wee ones to reach the countertops. Make sure each individual you work with has their own stool or chair.
- Relax and remember to breathe. Young kids often just want to spend time with you and will likely eat whatever they are making as soon as they start. Most likely, your child will not care how it looks. As long as it’s edible, fun to make and tastes good, they’ll be happy.
- Make sure you have plenty of time to spend with your kids in the kitchen. Kids who are new to the kitchen environment tend to work more slowly since they are learning so many new words and rules.
- Turn off non-essential electronics. It can be fun to have music on in the kitchen, but only if you can communicate properly with whoever is in there with you.
- Turn off or mute your phone when working with a kitchen novice. Give the person you are working with your full attention.
- Try to remember that YOU are not making the recipe. THEY are. You are there to guide them and keep them safe. Mistakes happen. It’s alright if the recipe doesn’t always turn out as it should.
Older or experienced children (about 9 years and older)
- Look for recipes together. There are lots of great recipes on-line from reputable sources.
- Be open to them trying out new recipes. As any cook becomes more comfortable in the kitchen, they become more willing to step outside of their comfort zone. Recipes that you might have said “No way!” to a year ago may now be an option.
- Have them help you check for ingredients and tools before starting.
- Read through the recipe fully to make sure everyone understands the recipe. If there’s a step you don’t understand, look for help online to clarify. Check out the How-To section on our website, our YouTube channel for tips, or contact our Answer Line for help.
- Go over expectations with them before they start. What are the agreeing to do? Will they clean up to their best ability? Will they ask for help when it’s needed? Will you need to be present the entire time or only when they ask for help? At what points will you step in without invitation?
- Have them do the dishes. If they are willing to be in the kitchen, they need to be willing to also clean any mess they make. Adults can help dry dishes, but those making the mess should clean and put away.
- If possible, involve their friends. If distance is an obstacle, video calling is a great option. A cupcake-baking party makes for a great birthday for a small group.
- Allot enough time. As your kids get older/more experienced, they might want to make recipes that are more difficult and time-consuming. Give them enough time to have success in the kitchen.
- Remember: YOU are not making the recipe. THEY are. Your job is to guide them and keep them safe. Mistakes happen and it’s alright if the recipe doesn’t turn out perfect every time.