My kids love being in the kitchen. They experiment with their own recipes and learn about success and failure. They talk my husband and me into tasting some very questionable-looking creations. After a few less-than-flavorful experiments, I convinced my seven-year-old that cookbooks are not for the weak and recipes are not for the unimaginative. Since then, she has cooked some delicious dishes and inspired her five-year-old sister to give it a try.
Now, if you are like me, the initial thought of children taking over the kitchen strikes fear deep in your heart. The mess. The fire. What will my stove/floor/counter look like? I don’t have time or patience to clean all of that up today! I have progressed from these thoughts to happily ignoring the kitchen while my kiddos make me something (usually) tasty. They learn so much while following a recipe: math, reading comprehension, cooperation, patience, handling failure, and the joy of a successful experiment.
Here are some tips to ease yourself into opening up your kitchen to your kids, along with some recommended cookbooks to get you started.
1. Set up Guidelines Before You Begin
If it were up to my girls, they would bake cookies every day. We limit our sugar intake around here, so the kids and I chatted and came to an agreement: they can bake one treat weekly, and any other recipes need to be of a healthier variety. Ask your kids what they think is reasonable. They are more likely not to try to wiggle out of self-made guidelines. Each family is different. Do what is right for yours.
2. Start Slowly
Once your kids catch the cooking bug, they may want to take over the kitchen daily. It’s okay to decide on a few days during the week that they can try a new recipe, or whatever your patience will allow. Learning to plan ahead is an important part of cooking. Encourage them to use their days off to choose recipes, take an inventory of ingredients, make a list of what they need to buy and determine how much money they will need to earn/ask for. On the other hand, if you love the idea of your child making you breakfast, lunch and dinner, by all means, set them free!
3. Let Your Kids Take the Lead
I do my best to remember Maria Montessori’s wise words, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Help when you are asked, step back when you are not. I usually open Instagram or a few articles I’ve been meaning to read and position myself close by. I let the kids know I am right there paying attention if they need help, but I am going to intentionally distract myself so Bossy Mama doesn’t try to take over. One of my little ladies is quite confident and rarely asks for help. The other likes me to watch over her every move. I follow the grocery store rule, though—“look, don’t touch”—and let her do the work herself.
4. Cleaning up is an Important Part of Cooking
The final guideline in our house is that when you leave the kitchen, it must look the way you found it. This is a work in progress, but even my littlest knows to wipe up the mess, rinse her dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. My seven-year-old sweeps up after herself, too. Full disclosure: I usually clean up again once they are done, but I make sure to wait until they have moved on to their next endeavor and aren’t around to watch.
There are so many kids’ cookbooks out there? Which ones are the best?
The kids and I have tried several and the following are our favorites:
The Disney Princess Cookbook: I know, I know—first you have to get past “Disney Princess”—but this cookbook has not failed us yet. The recipes are divided into snack, breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc. categories, which is nice for planning purposes. The directions are simple and easy to follow, but not cutesy like some of the other cookbooks we’ve seen. Both girls have tried several new dishes with great success. One of our favorite recipes is “Scrumptious Scottish Scones” which go perfectly with tea and morning coffee.
Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up: I bought this with my youngest in mind, but it’s been great for collaboration between the two girls. Dry ingredients are listed separately. Wet ingredients are shown in picture form along with simple directions for the rest of the recipe. So far, each dish has been delicious.
The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes: This cookbook is geared toward kids ages eight and up, but suitable for any serious little chef who is ready to step it up a few notches. Authentic recipes, fantastic illustrations and photos, and practical tips and techniques make this cookbook a find for the whole family.
Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes: This cookbook is perfect for young cooks who also love the world of Roald Dahl. It’s filled with 31 recipes based on eleven of Dahl’s books, such as Snozzcumbers, Candy Pencils You Can Eat in Class, and Eatable Marshmallow Pillows. My daughter can’t wait to make Stickjaw for Talkative Parents.
The Big Book of Cupcakes from Betty Crocker: This is one of the best cupcake cookbooks I’ve seen. I love to bake and the simple recipes in this book come through every time. The kids are learning to decorate their treats and this cookbook offers step-by-step instruction and endless inspiration.
Do you know of a must-have book that isn’t mentioned? Email me here to have it added to the GHF Store and help others on their learning adventures! ~ Nikki
When she is not stuck in a book, Nicole Linn homeschools two of her three children, and blogs about gifted children and adults at Through a Stronger Lens. She is also Online Merchandise Manager for GHF.