“I need some help in here,” I call from the kitchen. My older girls are doing their homework. My 9-year-old son is pouring over the Dungeons and Dragons Master’s Guide.
“I’ll help you Mommy!” my three-year-old daughter careens into the kitchen.
She’s at an age where she loves to “help.” She dumps half a jar of oregano into the pasta sauce, makes “eggs” with her measuring teaspoon in the flour, and eats yogurt with great relish instead of spooning it into the pancake batter.
Cooking with kids is often fun for kids but not always, eh hem, useful for grown-ups.
Now I’m in a quandary. I want to encourage her love of helping but dinner isn’t ready and I have to be at a meeting in half an hour. I’m usually happy for her to stand on a chair beside me but there is no doubt that tonight Leone’s “helping” is going to slow me down.
A way you can enjoy cooking with kids
That’s when I get my great idea. I still need to make a salad. It is a little too hard for a three year old to cut up a tomato but maybe Leone CAN actually help.
I quickly scrub clean a pair of blunt-tipped scissors and rinse off some scallions.
I help her wash her hands, hoist her onto a chair, put an empty salad bowl in front of her, and hand her the scissors.
Leone knows just what to do. This is as easy as cutting paper but way more fun.
My youngest daughter couldn’t be happier standing on her chair cutting the scallions into a bowl.
She would like to cut 15 more scallions into the bowl but I put the brakes on after three.
Then I hand her some cabbage leaves to cut. And finally some baby spinach (right you are, baby spinach does not need cutting but it keeps her busy while I use a vegetable peeler to shave a carrot into the salad and spice the beans and greens I have simmering on the stove.)
Blunt scissors = culinary shears for kids!
A quick, healthy dinner when you’re cooking with kids and in a hurry:
Beans and greens:
Sauté a chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat. When the onion softens add some chopped garlic and cook a minute longer. Add several big handfuls of washed spinach (it cooks down) and pre-cooked cannellini beans. (I made ours a day ahead but canned beans work fine too.) Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon (zest and juice). Collard greens, Swiss chard, arugula and dandelion greens all work great in this recipe. If you can, buy the organic option that is freshest and least expensive.
Melt some butter in a sauce pan with a lid and brown a quarter of a cup of orzo in it per one cup of white rice. Add rice and water and a chunk of onion, one whole carrot, and a piece of broccoli. Cook 15 minutes and let rest for 5. We know brown rice is better for you put think of the Japanese who eat (usually white) rice three meals a day, have the longest longevity in the world and the lowest obesity rates. This is a very kid-friendly dish. Make brown rice on a night you have more time.
Salad: You wash the lettuce or spinach. Your three year old does the rest.
Dessert: Make a fruit plate with cut-up chunks of apple, orange, and grapefruit or whatever fruit you have on hand. Or another healthy dessert.
Here are some more ideas for healthy foods kids love, especially healthy snacks.
Other ways the littles can help in the kitchen:
1) You put the plates around the table, they put a fork and cloth napkin at every person’s place.
2) They empty their clean dishes from the dishwasher directly into a special “stash,” a drawer they can open and close at their height.
3) They stand on a chair and sponge (aka move the dirt around) the counters with a damp rag and some non-toxic DIY kitchen spray.
4) They sweep the floor with a kid-sized broom (you can buy one like this one or simply cut the handle off a broom to make it kid-sized, which is what we did).
Do you enjoy cooking with kids? And how old were your kids when they started helping?
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Published: May 23, 2013
Last update: January 15, 2023
Here’s what you get 8 years later. A letter from my 11 year old daughter thanking me for teaching her how to cook! http://kyhealthykids.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1098&action=edit
Here’s what you get 8 years later. A letter from my 11 year old daughter thanking me for teaching her how to cook! http://kyhealthykids.com/2013/05/16/guest-post-thanks-for-teaching-me-how-to-cook/
I have always had my little one in the kitchen with me- since she could stand on a chair! (And had plenty of moments in which I wished I hadn’t made such a habit of it) She’s 4 now and over these years we’ve gotten into a pretty good groove and have both learned how to work together quite well in the kitchen. I found that she’s been able to use a butter knife on soft foods- like banana or avocado- since she could adequetely hold a such a knife. She’s been able to mix stuff since she was little. And now she is extremely helpful in getting ingredients from the fridge and pantry- and often knows exactly what we need for what we’re making. Her favorite thing now while Im cooking is making “Compost Soup” where I give her all the vegetable scraps, and she can practice cutting and create her own “dish”. But I really feel that her participation in the kitchen has made her very willing to try the food we cook, and not such a picky eater.
Theressa Broker says
My son is always nearby when I’m cooking something, he probably want to be a masterchief. Thanks for your advices though.
Wow, your ideas of how to let little children help to cook are just great. I always loved and love to cook with children. My nephew always liked to “help” when I was cooking. Now he is 20 some years old and loves to cook for himself.