6 Ways to Make It Easier to Cook with Your Kids

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: MaaHoo Studio/Stocksy)

My kids love to help me cook. They’re 3 and 5, so they’re medium-helpful, but they love to be involved, and I love to teach them about food and cooking (and math and science, too, as it’s all part of the same thing) while we work together.

Those are the good moments. In between, it’s a total mess — they’e not listening to directions, and they’re fighting over who gets to do what and eating all the food before you have a chance to even cook it. Is it just us?

But based on our many cooking experiences (and discussing it with my parent friends), there are things you can do to make cooking a pleasant and frequent part of your routine. Here’s what we could all do to make it easier to cook with kids.

1. Manage your expectations.

Repeat after me: It will be a total mess. Once you embrace the fact that the process will not be the smooth, efficient operation you can pull off solo, it will go much better. Give yourself double the time you’d usually need to get dinner on the table, and plan for extra cleanup time afterwards.

2. Bring kids up to your level.

A learning tower or sturdy step stool (I love this one) is key for your child to safely see what you’re doing and use their workspace. Resist setting them on the countertop or just pulling up a chair for them to stand on. An actual item designed for kids to stand on is best here.

3. Prep ahead of time.

Get out all your tools and ingredients before your start cooking so that your child is not unsupervised while you run around trying to find something. (If you don’t, that’s the time when they will definitely try to lick something off a knife, or eat raw chicken!) If you can, do the chopping ahead of time, too, to minimize the time they’re spending around knives.

(Image credit: Anya Brewley Schultheiss/Stocksy)

4. Give them tasks.

Kids don’t want to watch, they want to help! Give them tasks they can do mostly on their own, like picking herbs off the stem or pouring dry ingredients into a bowl. My kids love to make salad dressing, and luckily it’s pretty hard to screw up. Give them their own cutting board and butter knife to chop while you chop. Keep them busy!

5. Work in frequent tastings.

My kids absolutely love “taste tests,” so as much as I can, I let them experience the ingredients as we go. They sniff spices, taste olive oil and vinegar, and munch on raw veggies. I used to get frustrated when they ate all sorts of stuff during prep and then weren’t hungry for dinner, until a friend reminded me that it doesn’t really matter at what part of the process they eat those veggies, as long as they’re eating them!

6. Explain what you’re doing.

Narrate the steps as you go to teach your child a cooking vocabulary. While they might not appear to be listening, one day you’ll realize that they’re doing all the same steps in the play kitchen. Talking as you go is a natural way to share your knowledge.

What are some other things you do when you’re cooking with your kids at home? Tell us in the comments below!