Letting the kids in the kitchen

June 19, 2012

I know that cooking dinner for the family night after night can be very tedious indeed.

Cooking for a family who are fussy and picky, who will no doubt complain about something really can get you down. The solution? I can’t profess to have all the answers – but one thing that works for us always is letting the kids in the kitchen.

Giving the kids the freedom to experiment with ingredients will give them the confidence to try new foods, and teach them to respect the cooking efforts of others.

Do you let your kids help cook or are you too busy, too rushed, don’t like mess or just don’t have the time to properly supervise them?

I know that letting the kids in the kitchen takes energy — at first — but then after a while — after months/years of training them in the proper handling of knives, how to take things out of the oven safely, how to use the appliances, how to stack the dishwasher and where ingredients go in the pantry — you will be rewarded with capable and reliable kids in the kitchen.

After you have trained the children you will be able to sit back and relax (sort of), while they make some cookies, bake a cake, or even … cook dinner for the whole family! This last one is a big achievement — be prepared to swallow some burnt edges and lumpy mashed potato while gently giving advice and space to discover and experiment for themselves.

I am not saying leave them alone in the kitchen before they are ready… by all means hover nearby pretending to read your book… but let them make some mistakes, because from mistakes come discoveries, learning and finally proud achievement.

Teaching your kids to cook is a multi-step process and if they can walk then they can help.

Toddler to preschool age kids (2-5 yrs): This age child can do some mixing, roll out pastry, use a cookie cutter, use a butter knife to cut dough, help measure flour and sugar with measuring cups.

Pre-school to year 1 (4-7 yrs): This age child can gather ingredients, use the measuring scales to measure out ingredients, they can mix cookie dough, knead bread dough, roll pastry, measure liquids.

Year 1 to year 3 (6-9 yrs): This age child can make pastry and scones and cookie dough on their own with supervision, they can begin to learn to use sharp knives by cutting cooking dough and vegetables. They can do all the mixing, measuring, weighing and gathering of ingredients. They can crack and separate eggs, use the hand and the electric whisk, they can use the microwave, scales, read recipes and stir hot foods. They can begin to cook many of the recipes in Action Pack Family Cooking edition with supervision.

Year 3 to year 5 (8-11 yrs): This age child can cut vegetables with a sharp knife, they can stir hot things at the stove (standing on a sturdy stool) with supervision, they can roll pastry expertly, they can make pizzas, they can use the microwave to melt and warm food. They can make hot chocolates and toast and sandwiches. They can read the recipe and can make cookies and brownies completely on their own. And they can begin to use the oven with supervision. They should be able to make most of the recipes in the Action Pack Family Cooking edition with only minimal supervision.

Year 5 to year 7 (10-13 yrs): This age child is really capable of nearly everything in the kitchen as you are. However they still need supervision with the oven, hot oils and boiling sugar. A parent should still be within shouting distance while kids this age are cooking, as accidents can still occur. They can clean up the kitchen, stack the dishwasher and be a really good and useful helper. You should be able to leave them with instructions to begin or finish preparations for dinner, and they can make simple dinners on their own too. They can tackle all the recipes in the Action Pack Family Cooking edition on their own.

Year 7 to year 9  (12-15 yrs): Your child should now be fully capable of nearly everything in the kitchen (maybe with the exception of hot fats and sugars — but some adults have difficulty there too). Congratulations you have raised a confident and capable cook!

MORE: More tips for cooking with kids :: Get your Family Cooking Action Pack here

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