Does the idea of kids in the kitchen strike you with panicked thoughts of spilled milk, children covered head-to-toe with flour and a sink piled high with dishes? Never fear, for although teaching children to cook requires time and effort, it’s a worthwhile investment that can be accomplished without turning your kitchen into a disaster zone.

Benefits of Cooking with Kids

Knowing how to cook is a skill that will assist your children throughout their lifetimes, but the benefits of time spent in the kitchen extend beyond the knowledge of how to put a meal on the table. For example, following a recipe from beginning to end is good practice in following directions, and fine motor skills are refined through mixing and pouring.

Cooking boosts children’s academic skills. Choosing nutritious, frugal ingredients provides lessons in health and home economics. Measuring ingredients is hands-on math practice, and observing the changes that a mixture undergoes in the oven is a real-life science lesson.

Kitchen work also has emotional benefits for your child. Spending time cooking with a loved one is a bonding experience. Seeing a multi-step recipe through from beginning to end is a lesson in sticking with a project. And when children successfully produce their own creations in the kitchen, they gain confidence about their ability to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Ways to Streamline the Process

But just because cooking is a valuable skill, that doesn’t mean you should simply accept the chaos that may come along with it. Instead, look for ways to make the kitchen experience smoother for everyone involved.

Keep supplies that you want your children to use within their reach. Child-friendly tools, such as plastic mixing bowls and easy-to-grip spoons can be kept in a low cabinet. Plastic containers with snap-top lids provide easy access to ingredients like flour and sugar. On the other hand, keep items that you don’t want your children to use well out of reach.

Set guidelines for kitchen behavior. What can children cook on their own, and what sort of recipes require adult supervision? Are there certain times when the kitchen is off-limits, and are all ingredients up-for-grabs?

Additionally, you may want to establish the expectation that children clean up after themselves in the kitchen. Teach them how to return ingredients to the cabinet and wash the dishes they used. Like cooking itself, learning to clean up is a skill that will be refined over time, so have patience with your kids and guide them through the process.

Recipes to Try

With practice and a little help, children can cook anything they set their minds to. However, it’s best to start kids on the basics and work up to more complicated fare. There are plenty of child-friendly cookbooks on the market that will provide a wealth of ideas. Here are a few simple recipes to get them started.

  • Groovie Smoothie: Smoothies are fun to make and eat. Break two small bananas in pieces and add them to a blender, along with one cup of frozen strawberries, eight ounces of vanilla yogurt and ¾ cup of milk. Blend until smooth, then pour the mixture into two glasses.
  • Cinnamon-Sugar Chips: Turn regular tortillas into a special snack. Mix together six tablespoons of melted butter, one tablespoon of granulated sugar and ¾ teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Spread the mixture onto 12 10-inch flour tortillas. Cut each tortilla into eight wedges, and arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool before serving.
  • Creamy Mac and Cheese: Whip up a batch of homemade macaroni and cheese with just four ingredients. In a saucepan, mix three cups of milk, 2½ cups of short pasta and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stirring constantly, cook the mixture over medium-high heat until the pasta is tender, adding more milk if necessary. When the noodles are ready, remove the pot from the heat and stir in one cup of shredded cheese.

Sure, cooking with kids might be a little messy, but the end result is worth it. They’re gaining valuable skills that will stick with them for years to come.

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