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Bonding With Children Through Kitchen Activities

Updated on April 1, 2016
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Brainy Bunny is the mother of two. Together they read, craft, and play games for fun.

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As children grow and mature, parents can almost feel them slipping out of their grasp. The lure of friends, sports, electronics, and other activities can make parents feel left behind. This, in turn, can lead parents to worry what their kids might be up to when away from them. One solution is to develop a shared interest with your child, which will bond you together securely. One easy way to bond with kids is through cooking, giving you an opportunity to spend a few minutes together every day.

Use these techniques to bond with your kids in the kitchen:

  1. Start young. Invite your child into the kitchen whenever possible.
  2. Tell true stories or chat with your child about your day when you're cooking.
  3. Teach them cooking techniques, kitchen safety, and family recipes so they gain competence and confidence.
  4. Make it fun, and they'll always come back to your kitchen to see "what's cooking."

Rinsing canned beans is a simple task for preschoolers -- just pull up a chair to the sink for them to kneel on!
Rinsing canned beans is a simple task for preschoolers -- just pull up a chair to the sink for them to kneel on! | Source

Start When They're Young

Preschoolers are natural kitchen helpers. They love to measure and pour, and they're full of questions about how and why cooking happens. If you encourage them to join you at this stage, they will get used to being in the kitchen and "helping out". (Try to be patient; their help may be more of a hindrance occasionally, but you don"t want to turn them off!)

Appropriate tasks for preschoolers include:

  • Rinsing fruits, veggies, or canned beans in a colander
  • Measuring dry ingredients
  • Stirring cold ingredients together

Three- and four-year-olds have limited attention spans, so consider calling them into the kitchen to help you with specific tasks, rather than for preparing a whole dish. While they are helping you, ask about their day at preschool, or what their favorite part of their latest playdate was. Then talk about something you did that day, or tell a story about the food you are making together. This will signal to your child that kitchen time is about sharing stories, not just about preparing food. Pretty soon, your kid will be popping his head into the kitchen every day with a story and an offer of help. If only it were that easy to train them to wash their hands!

Involve your grade schooler in meal prep and you'll strengthen your bond.
Involve your grade schooler in meal prep and you'll strengthen your bond. | Source

Grade Schoolers Love to Cook

Elementary school is prime time for kitchen learning and bonding; kids are still eager to help their parents, and now they're capable of performing a much wider range of tasks, which will hold their interest.

Appropriate tasks for grade schoolers include:

  • Peeling carrots or potatoes
  • Cutting softer fruits and vegetables (peaches, peppers, tomatoes)
  • Using manual appliances like a can opener or cheese grater

The key at this age is to make sure that cooking and spending time together in the kitchen is just as much a priority as soccer practice or gymnastics class. To that end, consider spending Sunday afternoons cooking for the week. Freeze your main dishes, and then you'll need just a few minutes to make side dishes each day after piano lessons and before the basketball game. Encourage your child to come in to the kitchen to help with her favorite parts of cooking prep or to learn how to make a new dish. You may be surprised by how long she stays!

Another technique for bonding with kids in the kitchen is to let them do their homework at the table while you're cooking dinner. Chances are that if you ask a 10-year-old straight out what he did at school that day, the answer will be "Nothing." But if you make yourself available and open, he may open up also and say what's on his mind. And if not, at least you'll be sure he's done his homework!

Make your own silly recipes together. These turned out to be Chocolate-Drizzled Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow Cookies.
Make your own silly recipes together. These turned out to be Chocolate-Drizzled Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow Cookies. | Source

Bonding With Middle Schoolers Over Cupcakes

Middle schoolers are at the point where they feel it's not cool to hang out with their parents anymore, but if you lay the groundwork properly and have spent a lot of time making them feel special with you in the kitchen, they will likely continue the habit of spending time with you and talking about their day. Middle schoolers are more competent and can handle most of the tasks involved in cooking a meal, so you can offer them more responsibility in the kitchen, which will help them feel more grown up.

Tweens and young teens can:

  • Use the stove and oven with supervision
  • Slice, chop, mince, and dice most foods
  • Learn how to safely use electric appliances such as a mixer, blender, and food processor

Try to cater to their interests when deciding what to make together. If your daughter loves gourmet cupcakes, take some time to bake with her even if you wouldn't ordinarily make a special dessert. Some of my fondest kitchen memories are of baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom to bring to school for my friends, and twenty-some-odd years later I still bake with her whenever I get the chance. (My job usually involves licking the bowl.)

The key with tweens and young teens is to make time spent together fun. At this age, they may be spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to be cool, whcih may translate to lots of eye-rolling and crossed arms. Find a way to shake them out of their posing in the kitchen by being silly. Get flour in your hair or chopped meat on your nose "by accident." Devise an outrageous recipe together and serve it with a straight face to the rest of the family. Humor is a very effective bonding tool.

Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs
Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs

Let your teen choose the menu and boss you around in the kitchen for a change.

 

Older Teens in the Kitchen

Teens who have demonstrated competence in kitchen safety can and should be allowed to cook by themselves if they wish. Try not to intrude if they don't want company; they may feel you're trying to infantilize them by checking what they're doing. Instead, offer your services as sous chef. You've been in charge in the kitchen for years, so they may think it's fun to turn the tables and let you do the grunt work of chopping veggies and washing the chicken while they choose the recipes and stir the sauce.

Continue to be available for heart-to-heart discussions while cooking. Consider designating the kitchen a "safe space" for your teens to discuss hot-button issues like alcohol or sex with you. Cooking can give you both something to do with your hands while you tackle uncomfortable or sensitive conversations. And if you get distracted and burn the roast, go out for dinner and consider it money well spent on a teen who still feels close enough to you to share his worries and concerns.

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    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks, clevercat! I try to be silly in the kitchen to keep it fun. It seems to be working; my older child usually wants to stay with me and help me cook.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great ideas here! I love the one about getting flour in your hair "by accident". Voted up and useful!!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Green Art. The interaction between a grandparents and little kids is really special, and kitchen times makes it more so. I just got home from taking my kids to visit my parents, and some of my favorite moments were spent just watching my kids help my mom in the kitchen. I know they're making memories they'll treasure forever!

    • Green Art profile image

      Green Art 5 years ago

      My four year old grandson loves all the pouring and measuring of ingredients and tires quickly when it comes to stirring. He always manages to recover when the cup cakes or cookies are done baking:) Good hub with lots of practical advice on how to include children in the kitchen. Voted Up and Useful!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      You're welcome, TeachableMoments. It was a pleasure to write this hub and share my experiences. Thank you for reading!

    • TeachableMoments profile image

      TeachableMoments 5 years ago from California

      Thank you for such a wonderful hub. I voted up, beautiful, useful and interesting. Preparing food and cooking with children is such a great bonding activity. Not only do children learn so much while having fun, they connect with others in a meaningful way. Thanks for spreading the word.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Wow, Tonipet, thank you so much! You're right; it is fun if we loosen up a little and accept the tradeoff of five extra minutes of cleanup for a great relationship with our kids.

    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 5 years ago from The City of Generals

      Beautiful hub! Kids truly love cooking activities, and though allowing little ones help with the mixing up and everything may seem to make things a little messy (especially with flour) the fun is there and it's a great bonding teaching them the little details in the kitchen, plus, the joy of having us "play" with them. Loved your photos, I'm smiling all the time reading!:=) Thank you Brainy Bunny, you're awesome!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Pollobowl, it's great that you let your toddler help you with the dry ingredients. Rinsing canned beans is easy and fun (don't trust him to pick stones out of dry beans yet, though), and using a pastry brush to brush on egg wash is another favorite task of little ones.

    • pollobowl profile image

      pollobowl 5 years ago from North Carolina

      My 2 1/2 year old loves to dump ingredients into the bowls for me when I bake. We've also used that to help teach him to count. I never thought about having him help rinse stuff though. Thanks!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Joan, I love your philosophy. I still remember how my parents tricked me into taking on responsibility for washing dishes when I was around 9 years old. They had been telling me for a year or so that it was too much responsibility for me and I wasn't ready for it yet, which of course made me want to do it all the more! They finally agreed, with the stipulation that there was no going back once I declared myself responsible enough. Of course I agreed, they finally "let" me wash the dishes, and I have regretted it ever since. Ha!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hello, Peachpurple. Yes, there are many good reasons to get kids involved in the kitchen, and bonding is just one of them! Kids can learn responsibility, fire and knife safety procedures, and how to feed themselves once they get out into the big world! Thanks for reading.

    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 5 years ago

      My kids love to help in the kitchen. I like it to because it's less for me to do when they take over the mixing and washing dishes.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i do agree that parents should let children get involve in kitchen activities. Family bonding involved and responsibilities too. Great article.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Laura, it's great that you spend time with your kids in the kitchen. And if some day your daughter stops wanting to help you as much, at least she'll always have good memories of the time you spent together.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Good ideas! My daughter loves to be in the kitchen with me. It truly is a great way to spend time together. As for my teenage son, he is not as interested in this, but he will come and help out if I need him too. It always makes for a fun experience.