Kids love to help. They love to help in the kitchen, in the garden, on the farm and in basically anything you’re doing. (Even feeding baby chicks!) It can be hard to concentrate when you’re pushed for time and just want to get things done. It’s been hard for me to come around to this, but I’m starting to think that encouraging them to work alongside me is better for both of us then sending them on to play! I admit, it’s been hard for me to come around to this. I’m slowly learning, working together can be a fun way to connect and will lay the foundation for them to meaningfully contribute to the household and community when they get bigger. Here are some tips I’ve learned so far as my kids join me in the kitchen.
Let go of making something perfect. If you really want those muffins to be showstoppers - make them after bedtime. The point is to help your kids learn to enjoy the kitchen and have fun with you. This has been a hard lesson for me, and a constant act of shifting my thinking but well worth the shift.
Be willing to change course. My 2 -year- old wanted to add a peach to the veggie saute I was making, and I let him. It was delicious! It wasn’t the dish I had in mind, but it actually turned out better with that bit of sweetness, and the kids ate their veggies that night.
Get kid-friendly knives and kitchen tools. My kids got some serrated nylon knives for Christmas two years ago, and they love to use them to help... They can chop bell peppers, lettuce, kale, strawberries, grapes, chard, and more. For harder sweet potatoes and carrots I pull out the peeler which suits them fine! They peel while I chop, and everyone is happy.
Know where the food comes from. Kids are naturally curious, and the more they know about the food, the more likely they will want to help prepare it (and in turn, to try it!) You can grow a garden in your backyard, pull beans and cucumbers from the vine, and try them right away. Shop at the farmers market and introduce your child to your farmer. Join a CSA subscription program where you where you sign up for a box of weekly or biweekly veggies. Barr Farms offers a customizable CSA where you can set your preferences at sign up, and lots of flexibility with size and delivery options. Many CSA farmers offer an opportunity to visit the farm and see where the things are grown. For example, we have an annual farm picnic and treasure the tradition where the kids jump off the hayride to pick carrots.
Let them experiment. Often “I want to help!” turns into their own unrelated-to-dinner creation. Let them explore their creativity and learn what goes together and what doesn’t. Think of it as an experiment with a hypothesis, a test and tasty (or not so tasty) results. My five -year -old started helping with dinner the other day and wanted to make a cake. He chopped walnuts; added raisins, a handful of potato chips, some chunks of cheddar cheese, and mashed bananas. I encouraged him to add a little flour since it was a cake. We baked it in the oven, and it was surprisingly edible! He ate two pieces after dinner and was quite pleased with himself. It was an expensive and not-entirely delicious experiment, but he has talked about loving to cook since - which is worth the walnut investment in my book.
Know what they can and can’t do, but still let them try. When my two -year- old wants to chop sweet potatoes, I let him try (with the kid-safe nylon knives). I know the sweet potatoes are too dense for him to chop, but he’s two. He needs to do it himself to discover it’s too hard. I’m right here with him, though, for that moment just before tears and meltdown when I hand him the peeler.
With the tips above, you’re developing your kids’ curiosity, responsibility and independence and setting them for success in the kitchen and at the dinner table.
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About the Author
Rae lives and farms on Barr Farms with her family. She loves cooking healthy food, trying new things, deep conversations with friends, reading, learning, and playing, especially with her three children.