by Krista I have written a little bit about how I love to cook with my children, and one of the most common comments that I get is "I could never do that, it would not be safe". I don't feel this to be true in my case, even though my children can be pretty rambunctious, and aren't always the best listeners in the world. We are very careful to ensure that all of us are safe and enjoying the process, and it makes them more likely to listen and want to do it again. So I thought I would share a few of the tips and tricks that I use to make sure that the experience is safe, fun, and successful.
Establish rules and set expectations from the start. I take the time to remind my monkeys before we start each cooking endeavour, and never bend or waiver from them, and they know it. There are some simple rules that apply all the time, like never touch the cutting board if mommy has a knife in her hand, never touch any part of the stove without permission, and always listen to mommy in the kitchen. I might add a few new ones in specific to the recipe, but these are the constants. I have established consequences, and make these known as well. They know that the rules are for their safety, and that not following means they have to stop participating for some or all of the recipe. They don't want that, so they are really, really good.
Start slowly. We didn't just one day decide to jump in and fry bacon together! Both of my children actually started out by sitting in a chair at the counter and watching me cook. I then got them to gather ingredients and utensils, then simple tasks like dumping measuring cups in the bowls or washing veggies. It took a while before we moved to actually cooking together at the stove.
Start simple and with familiar foods. Most of the early recipes that we made had fewer than four ingredients, or were really easy to throw together. This helped us make sure that there was something edible in the end, and that they were interested to the end. I also tended to have them help me if I was making something they loved. Pizza was great for this, a family favourite that could be pretty simple.
Pre-prep the harder stuff, if you need to. For me this most often meant chopping ingredients that needed to be sliced and diced, but could also mean doing some of the cooking in advance. It also means that I pre-plan what they are going to do in any recipe, ensuring that there are enough steps that they can do.
Allow for extra extra time. It generally takes me at least half again as long to cook with the lils. So if a recipe says it will take twenty minutes to prep, I aim to have it prepped in thirty or more minutes.
Expect a mess. The kitchen is pretty messy when they are helping out, so I plan for it and don't stress out. I try to keep the messy work contained to the same area and near the sink if possible. We also have tea towels at arms reach at all times. We clean up together when we are finished, or if we are really lucky, we get Daddy to do it for us!
Cooking with your little ones is a bit more work, but it is well worth it for me. Not only are they starting to learn the basic tools that will serve them well their whole lives, they are starting to know and appreciate what goes into the food that we eat. There is nothing that beats the pride I feel when they come running in to the kitchen at the end of the day, drag their chairs over to the counter and excitedly ask "what are we cooking for dinner?!"