30 Ways To Get & Keep Kids Involved In The Kitchen

Written by Kate Miller

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, where is the best place to sneak in some special time with your children? You guessed it – in the kitchen. Having your children help in the kitchen bolsters their self-esteem, builds a strong parent-child bond, and teaches them skills they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives. Here are some ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen, and to make sure they stay that way!

  1. Start with the sling, bouncy seat or high chair. Keep your babies with you as you work in the kitchen. It is never too early to get them acquainted with the kitchen and all the work that goes on in there.
  2. As they grow, add some food-related toys to baby’s time in the kitchen. Create a box of toy food, toy pots and pans, plastic cups, etc. Only pull this box out when you are cooking and set them up to “cook” alongside you. Most babies will happily sit on the floor or in their highchair and play for at least 15 minutes. A little time spent in the kitchen, doing kitchen stuff, is better than none.
  3. Make the kitchen a fun place to be. Keep magnets for the kids to play with on the refrigerator, have music on, designate a drawer or unused cabinet as a spot for toys. Let your children view the kitchen as an inviting and friendly place.
  4. Let kids play with their food. Playing with food while eating is one thing, but playing with food while cooking is entirely acceptable. Give them a section of bread dough to play with. Let them make pictures with cooked spaghetti…the possibilities are endless.
  5. Be patient. Speed and little helping hands usually don’t go well together. But pressuring kids to work faster while they are helping is just not beneficial for anyone. If you’re on a tight schedule, try to build in at least 5 minutes of extra time as a buffer so that everyone can work at the appropriate pace.
  6. Ask for help. Ask your kids to help before they can ask you. They will feel needed and important. If the meal you are preparing is not conducive to little hands, try to find other ways for them to help. Maybe they can gather items from the pantry or refrigerator for you. And don’t forget to let them know just how valued their help is.
  7. Provide opportunities for involvement. Think of each child and their capabilities. Give them a chance to do what you know they are capable of, and sometimes push their skills a little further. A 3 year old can stir, a 5 year old can tear lettuce, an 8 year old can peel carrots.
  8. Get your kids their own aprons. If you wear an apron, get one for each of your children also. They’ll feel included. And what child doesn’t love to dress up like mom or dad? To take it one step further, see if you can find plain white cotton aprons that can be personalized with paints or markers by the children.
  9. Have at least one step stool in the kitchen. There is nothing more frustrating than a small child who wants to help but can’t even see the top of the counter. Give them a boost with a step stool.
  10. Maintain a running conversation while working. Explain what you are doing while you work, or talk about something completely unrelated to cooking. But whatever you do, keep the conversation flowing. As children get older, they’ll remember the conversations you had. They’ll seek out time to work with you when they need to talk because they’ll view the kitchen as a place for open dialogue.
  11. If able, let the kids sit on the counter sometimes. They’ll get a different perspective and they’ll also be able to watch you more closely while you work.
  12. Let them help with the meal planning. Kids can truly feel like part of the cooking team when they decide what to eat on a certain day. Whenever possible, try to let one of your children choose at least one meal per week, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  13. If you have more than one child, sometimes set aside time for just one child to work with you on their own. Doing this will allow that child to feel pride in being a special helper for the day. It will also provide a great opportunity for some quality one-on-one time.
  14. Encourage creativity. Let your childrens’ imagination run while they help you in the kitchen. Call broccoli trees and mashed potatoes snow, then let them build a winter forest.
  15. Try to never turn down a bite of an uniquely-created “snack” or other food. When your kids are old enough to experiment on their own, encourage their efforts by trying a taste, no matter how small, of whatever concoction they create. If you turn them down, they’ll feel discouraged.
  16. Play along. Take part in imaginative cooking play outside of your own cooking. If you have a play kitchen in your home, spend time with the kids there and let them serve you.
  17. Include the kids in kitchen chores other than cooking. Assign your kids dishwasher or dish washing duties. Let them help unload groceries. They’ll feel like an important part of the household and also develop a respect for all of your kitchen work.
  18. Prepare a special meal together for someone important. Make breakfast in bed for dad on Father’s Day or a “gourmet” meal for the grandparents together. The praise that the kids receive for their work will go along way toward cementing their love of being involved in the kitchen.
  19. As they are able, assign older children meals or tasks that are their sole responsibility. Simple meal chores can be assigned from a young age. Younger children can take on the responsibility of pouring cereal for everyone in the morning while older children can be responsible for preparing the nightly salad.
  20. Look at cookbooks together. Start with your own cookbooks at home and look through the pictures. Discuss possible new meal options or unique foods. Check your local library for kid’s cookbooks and read over those together. Let each child choose a favorite new recipe they’d like to help prepare.
  21. Watch cooking shows together. Watching chefs with outlandish personalities prepare food can really spark an interest in cooking for kids. Borrow some catch phrases from a favorite show and use them in your own kitchen.
  22. Try to keep your cool when faced with an unexpected mess. Messes will happen – flour will cover everything and milk will spill. But that is part of the fun of really getting into your cooking. Accept the messes your kids make with a “so what” attitude and then cheerfully clean them up together.
  23. If you really must work on something alone, don’t be afraid to tell your children that. There will be times when you just can’t have the kids helping. Respectfully tell them that you need to work alone. If you’ve created a friendly environment at other times, chances are good that they’ll happily understand.
  24. Make sure the kitchen is kid-friendly. Don’t keep breakable or dangerous objects in a spot that you’ll have to worry about the kids getting to them. And whenever possible, designate a low cabinet, shelf or drawer for their kid plates or other utensils.
  25. Don’t underestimate abilities. You may not think your 8 year old can safely use a knife, but how will you know unless you teach them the proper technique and let them try?
  26. Reserve a raised voice for safety issues only. Try to not raise your voice with your young helpers unless they are in danger of hurting themselves. You want them to view the kitchen as a fun place, not somewhere where they are always going to get into trouble.
  27. Relate cooking to activities outside of the kitchen and take advantage of teachable moments. Teach fractions while using measuring cups. Baking with yeast provides a great opportunity to learn chemistry. And reading directions or ingredient labels is a wonderful way to practice reading skills.
  28. Let messes be made. With younger children who can’t really do much to help yet, set them up on the floor with some dried beans and a big bowl full of water. They’ll still feel like they are participating in the work and they’ll be having fun. However, a mess is probably inevitable. The rewards are so worth the little extra clean-up effort though.
  29. Every once in a great while, start a small-scale food fight. This is a great way to have fun, build memories, and let the kids see a different side of both you and the kitchen.
  30. Always remember your manners. When asking for help, say please. Reward a job well-done with a big thank you and a hug. Treat your child helpers as you like to be treated when you help someone.

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