Teaching Life Skills: Giving Kids More Responsibility in the Kitchen
Start Them Young
My family picture albums are peppered with pictures of little boys up on chairs in the kitchen helping to make meals. Sometimes it can be hard, when pressed for time to include those little hands in meal preparation, and that is okay. But parents need to take the time to allow their children access to the kitchen. Being able to prepare meals is an important life skill that everyone needs to know and the more they learn while at home the better cook or baker they will become.
Very young children can stand and help out in the kitchen. My daughter was up in a bench at the counter from the time she could stand. She would "help" beat eggs and knead dough. I explained what I was doing each step of the way. My sons all started helping in bigger ways around age 2. They can pour in pre-measured ingredients, crack eggs, knead dough, chop with a kid safe knife, etc. All you have to do is take the time to teach them the skills.
Keep Them Safe, But Let Them Go
There is a fine line between keeping kids safe in the kitchen and allowing them to have freedom to learn. Obviously, when it comes to a hot stove, oven or sharp knives precautions must be taken. But I have found that most of the time those precautions mean avoidance. You should not shelter your kids from a hot stove- but teach them how to work with it. Teach them where to place the pot handle, how to hold a pan to avoid getting burned and work together so that they are safe, yet still progressing in their skills.
Sharp knives are only dangerous in inexperienced hands. Let your children have the experience. Teach them the correct placement of their fingers on a knife and where to place the other hand to avoid getting cut. Let them practice on foods that are easily cut like boiled eggs or soft fruits and vegetables. Young children can be taught these same skills using a child safe knife so that by the time they are old enough to move up they already have a good foundation.
Spreading Their Wings
As children get older they will naturally want to help more in the kitchen. Kids ages 4-8 can start to branch out a little from being a helper to being in charge. They might need help reading the recipe and putting things in the oven, but they are good at accurately measuring ingredients, breaking eggs, stirring, etc. At this age it is good to have a few recipes on hand for them to do with minimal help. Choose things they like to eat with minimal ingredients.
Some good dishes to start with include:
- granola bars
- crock pot lasagna
- banana bread
- basic yeast bread
- Cheese or Bean Burritos
These things are pretty easy to make, especially if you have access to a mixer and they can gain confidence in their skills. If you have convenience kitchen appliances like a crock pot, bread maker or toaster oven they can really help out a young baker.
By the time your children reach the age of 9 (some earlier, some later based on maturity) they should be pretty well prepared to take on bigger things in the kitchen. They can start to learn more difficult techniques and start to form their own kitchen identity.
Some good items for older kids:
- desserts for the family dinner or friendly get-togethers
- baked meatballs
- pasta dishes
They might not be ready to jump in and make fancy , gourmet meals, but almost all of your basic recipes should now be attainable for them.
Oftentimes it can be hard to watch your kids in the kitchen at this age, because we want to jump in and tell them how to do something. As long as they are mature and well prepared I advise you to leave them to it. They need to learn their own style and way of doing things. Most likely you have been in the kitchen for years and years and have formed all sorts of short cuts and habits, and as hard as it seems, don't share those while they are cooking. Walk away and enjoy your night of not making dinner.
The Bonus Side
There are many benefits for giving your children freedom in the kitchen. Some of them are to your benefit and some are for them.
- They learn a skill to carry with them their whole life. When your kids are out on their own, being able to cook for themselves means a better budget and less fast food and processed items.
- They gain confidence that will carry over into other aspects of their life. This is very important for young adults the teen and tween stage can be a rough. Having confidence is important to having a healthy outlook in life.
- You get a break in the kitchen. If you are like me- the main meal preparer of the family- this is a much welcomed bonus!
- The kitchen is a great place for bonding, many great conversations can be had while cooking and this communication can be very important as your children get into their teen years.
So next time your son or daughter is begging to help you make dinner or lunch, take a moment to let them. Guide them in the right direction and remember you are bringing up the future. And that future needs to be able to cook!