Cooking with kids always seems like such a great idea – until you actually do it. If you can see past the messes and inefficiency, however, you will be rewarded with a sweet experience that neither of you will ever forget! Cooking together builds confidence, teaches life skills, and encourages healthy eating habits. In addition, it can bring some of your most treasured bonding moments – that is, if you can manage to relax and enjoy yourself instead of worrying about the state of your kitchen. Here are my top tips for enjoying cooking with kids. Share yours in the comments!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Cooking with Kids: How to Relax and Have Fun
If You Invite Them to Help, Make Sure Your Mean It
If you are going to cook with your child, make sure you are really in the mood for it. If you are already feeling anxious or irritable to begin with, take a rain check and do it another time. Cooking with kids requires all of your patience and attention, so don’t start off at a deficit.
Organize Your Space
Before beginning, make sure their work space is clear, accessible, and safe. You don’t want to have them get started only to notice that the kitchen knives are within reach of your toddler or that there isn’t really enough room for them to roll out their dough. Take a few extra minutes to clear off the counter space and bring all of the ingredients into easy reach, so you aren’t leaving a small child unattended while you go to pull items out of the pantry.
Know What You’re Doing
If it is a new or less familiar recipe, be sure to read it over carefully ahead of time. Remember that once you begin you will be distracted by your kids.
Make sure that anything dangerous is out of reach before you even begin and keep a sharp eye on what your child is doing. They seem to have a knack for discovering dangers you never would have dreamed of! Remember that you will be distracted, so as you cook, triple check that turn off the burners and put away equipment.
Allow Extra Time – But Know Your Limits
Be sure to allow plenty of extra time, not just because you’ll be cleaning up spills or teaching them how to crack eggs. Children are also much more process oriented than adults, so they will likely enjoy stirring together the ingredients or cutting out the shapes longer than is strictly necessary. Bite your tongue and let it go on for as long as you can, because often this is the part they most enjoy. Mine tend to linger at the mixing stage then lose interest and wander out of the kitchen. But do know your limits. If you feel your frustration building, gently move them along after a reasonable period.
And reliably, your child will have a messy diaper or need to go potty at a key point in the recipe, so try to make dishes that can sit on the counter while you take necessary breaks!
Embrace the Mess
Cooking with kids is messy and slow – and fun! But you have to accept the first two in order to really enjoy the latter.
I never realized how uptight I was about messes until I had kids. Now I really try to relax and enjoy the moment. After all, there is often little you can do to contain the mess! Your child, covered in flour from head to foot, is bound to take off for the living room, bouncing off all the furniture, just as you have your hands full with hot cookie sheets from the oven and can’t possibly chase him down. Or he will decide to “help” you crack the eggs on the counter when you have your back turned for just a second. No matter what, there will be a mess to clean up, so you might as well make it worth it!
Set Your Priorities And Lower Your Expectations Accordingly
If you expect to bake perfect dishes in no time flat with little mess, than you have no business bringing your child into the action. You will only become frustrated with your little one, who has very different ideas about what is going to happen.
But if you have asked your child to join you, it is probably because you want to have a special, fun experience with him, rather than a perfect product. Just keep reminding yourself of this, when you start to switch back into a default mode of “I must get these in the oven right now!” and “Don’t pull apart the cookies! They were so pretty!”
Try to Work with “Child Efficiency” Rather Than “Adult Efficiency”
If you are working alone, you will probably complete the steps a certain way in order to be efficient, but that may not be the most efficient way to do things when you have a little helper. For example, when making cookies, normally I would roll out all the dough, then cut out all the shapes, then move them all to the cookie sheet. When I did that with my toddler helping me, however, dough disappeared into his sweet little mouth before I could cut out all the shapes, and what shapes I could do were often broken or “transformed” into something entirely different by the time I could put them onto the cookie sheet.
So instead, I rolled out a bit of dough, cut a few stars, and moved those to the cookie sheet before rolling out a bit more dough. Much more “child efficient.”
A Final Note
Some cookies will burn. Some cakes will be lumpy. And key ingredients will probably be forgotten. But chances are everyone will love it anyway, especially if they know your little one helped!
And just remember: When you are cooking with kids, you always have a great excuse if your dishes don’t turn out perfectly!
Marigold Bakes a Cake
A really fun book you and your child will both enjoy is Marigold Bakes a Cake. Poor Marigold is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to baking. That is why he does it alone – until the birds show up. First one, then more fly into his kitchen and mess up the perfect cake he is baking, until Marigold finally loses his temper. After Marigold calms down a bit, he leaves to go on a walk and regain his composure. Meanwhile, the birds decide they will fix the situation by making Marigold the perfect cake he had dreamed of – except they end up making even more of a mess! Yet Marigold recognizes their love of cooking (and affection for him) and decides to teach them how to cook.
For me, this book is about learning to live with imperfection in our cooking and in ourselves. Marigold tries to be patient but fails, yet he realizes he needs to take a break to calm down. And the birds never do learn how to cook, but they have so much fun the reader can’t help but be swept up in their enthusiasm. Marigold Bakes a Cake is a fun way to remind kids (and parents!) to enjoy the process rather than getting caught up in having perfect results.