Eating a homemade meal together as a family: this simple ritual can encompass so many wonderful elements. Children are naturally curious about cooking and preparing food, and, if given the opportunity, naturally proficient in the kitchen. As mom-in-chief of my company, Bite-Sized Kitchen, I am passionate about bringing kids into the kitchen and helping them learn how to make simple dishes from scratch. One of my favourite subjects is family dinner, and talking about ways to include your children in the whole process.
From a very young age, children’s hands and minds are suited to so many kitchen tasks. Sometimes the main element we all need help with is parental patience! It really is all about how you, as the parent or caregiver, approach children helping make dinner. The more they are given space to work with raw ingredients and real tools, the more proficient they will become.
There are a few things it can be useful to remember when helping your children participate in making family dinner.
1. Depending on the height of the children, provide a stool so they can be at your height. This may be my children’s favourite aspect of dinner prep. (“Let me get my stool, Mummy!”) It makes them feel like a grown-up – which, let’s be honest, is all they really want in this world.
2. Initially, choose tasks they can manage without getting too frustrated. This is a pretty easy one. Tearing salad greens, pulling stems off mushrooms (a favourite of our 3-year-old), and stirring pots on the stove (with help and/or a watchful eye, of course) are all great choices. Getting their hands in dough (bread, pizza, fresh pasta, biscuit, pie pastry) is also really exciting.
3. Conversely, don’t be afraid to trust them with more challenging tasks. A good example is pouring pancake or crepe batter into a hot pan. With your hand nearby, this is absolutely an achievable task for a 3- or 4-year-old.
4. Safety. Clearly important. But what’s really significant is having you, the parent or caregiver, nearby to jump in and help when it gets too tricky. Last Christmas, when our son was 4, we gave him a small, serrated paring knife with a rounded tip. I’ve shown him how to hold it, and how to hold his other hand. He has a cutting board with rubber edges, so it doesn’t slip. And I stand beside him. Start knife skills with vegetables and fruit that are easy to cut, like bananas, cucumbers, and zucchini.
5. If you only have ten minutes, don’t abandon the effort. In that ten minutes you spend with her, a kid could measure olive oil, vinegar, and salt for salad dressing, and shake it up. She could pull the tips off green beans, or peel a couple of cloves of garlic. Small, short tasks are meaningful, and sometimes a child’s attention may be drawn elsewhere after ten minutes anyway.
6. Let mess happen. Now this one doesn’t sell itself. When young kids help out in the kitchen, it will probably get messy. Fill your sink with hot soapy water and throw dirty bowls and pots in there as you go. You can also enlist kids to help wash the dishes (putting down a towel beside the sink makes wiping up easier)!
7. Keep your cool. That’s you, the parent or caregiver. Your attitude means the world to a child’s experience and confidence working with ingredients. For your first foray into bringing your young child into the kitchen, make sure you have had enough coffee and food to give you skills of patience. It’s a long term investment; just think about the day when she is 8 years old and cooks you dinner, all by herself. Now that will be something to see!
About the Author:
Claire Gallant is the Mom-in-chief of Bite-Sized Kitchen, a company that is raising expectations about what kids can do in the kitchen. She writes a blog about cooking with children using whole ingredients, hands-on methods, and beautiful presentation. She teaches cooking lessons and community workshops where she shows children how to make food from scratch. A former restaurant chef, Claire knew as her two children grew that she would start a company based on changing ideas surrounding kids and food. For more on family dinner, and cooking with children, have a look at bitesizedkitchenhalifax.com.