Real Help from Kids in the Kitchen: 8 Actually Helpful Ways to Put Kids to Work

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

I don’t believe in making pretend work in the kitchen for children, the kind of jobs that create more work for me. I’m not that nice. Do it right, or don’t do it at all. But they’ll never learn if I don’t teach them, will they? Finding tasks they can do saves me time. Also? It keeps them nearby, so we can chat and enjoy the work together. Here are eight kitchen tasks that kids can do that will actually help you out. 

I love to cook. In fact, I wish I had more time to do it. On vacation, I love planning and preparing meals, usually with a cocktail nearby and plenty of friends to chat and share in the work. Last summer on South Carolina’s beautiful and rustic Edisto Island, we did what we always do: steamed a dozen crabs in a large pot, with light beer to provide the steam and plenty of Old Bay for flavor. 

Picking the crabs is hard work, but never tedious, because we gather on the porch, gab, eat some crab while we pick, and enjoy the sunset. To my surprise, the boys were looking forward to it. Not because they particularly love crab, though they will fight over the last crab cake, but because they love the actual work. Well, pour Mama another cocktail — who knew? It isn’t easy, but with their small fingers and growing experience, they’re pretty good at extracting as much meat as possible from the delicious blue crab. Though cooking tasks at home might not be as novel, they can still be done by small hands. 

Here are some other jobs I’ve been able to farm out at home, because an extra set of hands at the end of a busy day can be a lot of help:

  1. Grating cheese. I hate grating cheese so much that I’ll use the food processor to grate even a quarter cup. That’s wasteful. Child power doesn’t use electricity.
  2. Picking herbs. Tell them exactly where to find them outside, if you don’t want azalea leaves in your soup.
  3. Putting things away as you finish using them. If only my husband had learned this when he was younger. I am doing their future housemates a favor.
  4. Setting the table. An oldie, but a goodie.
  5. Filling the water bottles we keep on the table.
  6. Emptying the dishwasher, so we can re-fill it after dinner.
  7. My older children can bike to the store and get the one essential thing I forgot, like an onion. Or a chicken.
  8. Put carrots or salad in a bowl.
What are your least favorite tasks in the kitchen? How do you ask others to help?

Related: On Cooking with Kids (With a Few Recommended Books)

(Images: Anne Postic)