5 Tips for Cooking with Kids (ideas to make preparing food fun for both kids ‘and’ parents!)

Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.” Guy Fieri, Restaurateur.

Cooking with kids - toddler placing veges in baking trayKids in the kitchen can and should be great fun. It can also be frustrating, messy, and leave you wondering whether the finger now swiping the cake batter, is the same one you saw up someone’s nose just moments ago!

Food and making food together can also create strong memories. Most family events ranging from everyday meals and school lunches; to travel experiences, birthdays, and cultural celebrations, often involve food. Even the smell of a certain food can bring back memories of a time, place, event or person from our past. I still remember the amazing smell of jam drop biscuits every time the lid was lifted off my grandmother’s old fashioned biscuit tin. Yum!

When I had my own children I couldn’t wait to get them in the kitchen baking with me. As soon as our eldest could sit in a high chair, I’d wheel her over beside the kitchen bench. She’d play with empty measuring cups and spoons while I cooked. Soon I started giving her small amounts of the ingredients I was using. She’d then attempt to scoop and pour them between the measuring cups. Cooking with kids - child breaking eggsIf I squeezed a lemon, I’d give her the peel and let her feel the texture and smell the zest. Often bits of food would end up flung across the room or dropped on the floor, but over time that happened less and less. Now, at age five, she confidently cracks eggs, stirs mixtures and pours batter into cake tins while little brother stands beside her learning to stir, and dumping ingredients into a bowl as I measure them (but mostly on the kitchen bench).

If you haven’t tried cooking with your kids before or if you’ve had a bad experience vowing never to do it again, I urge you to keep trying on a regular basis. Besides being a great opportunity to spend time and connect with our kids, teaching kids cooking skills is also an important part of raising capable and independent adults. You don’t even have be a great cook yourself to have fun in the kitchen with your kids! It’s certainly not always smooth sailing but the below tips will help you set yourself (and your kids) up for success and increase the chance of making some happy memories in the kitchen!

1. Plan ahead and get organised:

  • Make some time when everyone’s at their best (including the adult!). Cooking with kids can be lots of fun but does require extra patience. If you’re not in the mood for mess, tastings along the way, or if you’re in a hurry, best to leave for another time. Straight after morning tea works well at the moment with Mr 2, as he has a full tummy and it’s before he gets tired and cranky. You know your kids best, so experiment and see what works.
  • Cooking with kids - toddler stirring chocolate cake batterChoose a basic recipe to begin with. Cake batters like this Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe are a great starting point. Everything goes in a bowl and the kids can stir with a spoon. And it’s always nice to have a special treat of cake to look forward to!
  • Make sure you have all the ingredients, and anything else you’ll need before you begin. You don’t want to be part way through a recipe before realising you’re missing a key ingredient! Depending on how ‘grabby’ your kids are you might even want to measure out ingredients and set them aside before inviting them to join you. This can avoid having to do battle with a toddler trying to shove a fistful of butter in their mouth while you yell out “That’s not cheese!”… just for example…
  • Clean your work area before you begin. Inevitably some ingredients will end up on the bench. If you know the bench is clean you can scoop up any spillage and put it back in the bowl instead of in the rubbish bin avoiding needless waste.

2. Allow more time than you think you’ll need:

  • Cooking with kids usually takes longer than we think it will. That’s why it’s often so tempting to send the kids to play so you can quickly whip something up! But if we’re wanting to cook ‘with’ our kids, allow some extra time. The best part is, if they’re given plenty of opportunities to practice, they’ll get quicker over time. And the first time they make you breakfast in bed might be sooner than you think!… That’s what I’m hoping anyway…

3. Keep tasks age appropriate (remembering every child is different)Cooking with Kids - toddler with cupcake cases

  • If you have a toddler, let them try tasks such as washing fruit, vegetables, or salad greens; stirring cake batters; tipping ingredients into a bowl (ingredients that you’ve measured out); putting cupcakes cases into a tray once you’ve separated each case for them; putting sprinkles on a cake; placing chopped vegetables into a baking dish.
  • Preschoolers and young kids can try any of the toddler tasks as well as tasks such as cracking eggs (always into a separate bowl first to avoid any cracked egg shells in your mix); greasing a cake tin with butter; whisking; setting the kitchen timer; setting the table; and cleaning up afterwards.

4. Expect some mess:Cooking with kids - toddler cooking mess

  • Place a plastic table cloth on the floor if needed (we have carpet on the kid’s side of the kitchen bench) or just clean up at the end.
  • Involve the kids in the clean up. We use a great Natural Cleaning Spray Recipe (non-toxic and chemical free) that we make and keep in a spray bottle. The kids can spray it on the bench and wipe off with a cloth. Even the toddler has a go at wiping the bench!

5. Let them get creative:

  • Besides being simple to make, we love baking cakes and cupcakes together because icing and decorating is an easy way for kids to be creative. Help your kids make a Quick and Easy Icing mixture and let them add whichever food colouring they choose. Let them decorate with sprinkles or other decorations however they like.

Bonus tip: Enjoy the process!

  • If the cake falls flat or there’s more flour on the bench than in the bowl, it really doesn’t matter. Even if there are more meltdowns than muffins, just try again another day soon. Focus on creating happy memories together rather than mini chefs! Have fun!

Note: While I strongly encourage everyone to get cooking with their kids, please remember kitchens can be dangerous places for littlies. Sharp knives, hot stoves, boiling water and so on require constant supervision by an adult to ensure anything dangerous is kept out of reach.

Questions: What’s your favourite food related memory from your childhood? Do you have a handy tip for cooking with kids? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to know.

Creative challenge: Choose one day this week and cook something with your kids. Bake our Easy Chocolate Cake or choose one of your own family favourites.

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6 thoughts on “5 Tips for Cooking with Kids (ideas to make preparing food fun for both kids ‘and’ parents!)

  1. Love this post and what a great post for the first one for family creative!
    Get messy everyone and have fun as you go. As my kids shout out often…”mummy if we are not messy we are not having fun”
    Donelle, thank you for your inspiration…your way with words is beautiful. I am looking forward to making chocolate cake this week 🙂

  2. I love this!! It has reminded me how important coming together add a family especially with little ones😊 THANK YOU!

  3. Thanks Lorena 🙂 Food is such a big part of life for most families, it’s great to get kids involved early. It gives them such confidence too as their skills improve! I love the whole ‘gathering around the table as a family’ practice. Such a great opportunity to connect 🙂

  4. Donelle, you have inspired us to take on your mini quest with our three girls. Our quest is to alternate each weekend with a pool visit, bush or new area to walk and a bike ride. It has worked for the last two weeks with a few tears from the 2year old who can’t keep up with her big sisters. Err!

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