Some of my best memories from my childhood are of the time spent with my mom in the kitchen. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way-- memories are made in the kitchen, and it can be such a special time for parents and children to spend together. In addition to making you and your kids feel all warm and fuzzy, letting kids help and work in the kitchen teaches them fine motor skills, math, sequencing, reading and following directions, and practical life skills. It's a gold mine, people!
To make it easier for you to have your little ones with you in the kitchen, I'm sharing 25 tips on organization, supplies, cooking with kids, and safety.
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Making sure that your kids are comfortable in the kitchen starts with a few basic organizing strategies.
- Put some spare plastic containers or old pots and pans in a cabinet that your children have access to. While you may need to put child-proofing locks on many of your kitchen cabinets, having at least one cabinet or drawer that your kids have free access to will keep them happy in the kitchen while you work, especially when they are still babies or young toddlers.
- Put children's dishware and cups where your kids can get to them. We keep the girls' plates, cups, and bowls in a low drawer and the children can grab what they need. By the time Lena was 2, she could grab a plastic cup from the drawer, stretch to reach the refrigerator water dispenser, and get herself a sip of water. This was SO helpful when I was tied to the couch nursing a newborn! This also allows them to easily help set the table!
- When I was young, my mom set up a drawer with arts and crafts supplies in the kitchen. You can guess where I spent most of my time! I would grab some paper and crayons and sprawl out on the floor. So even when I wasn't helping my mom cook, I was in the kitchen with her, spending time together, talking, listening, and learning. I'm sure it was tough for my mom to give up some kitchen storage space (and floor space, as I worked!) but it kept me close by.
- If you want your children to be able to grab their own snack, without help from you, consider setting up a self-serve snack bin. Cupcakes, Kisses 'N' Crumbs shows you how.
For your kids to really feel welcome in the kitchen, you've got to have the right stuff. Kids LOVE things that are made to be just their size, and luckily there are some really cute products available.
- Everyone who sees our girls' forks, spoons, and knives asks about them. They are child-sized, without being childish. When my girls were toddlers, I hated the plastic cutlery that was available. It just didn't seem to work very well. So I hunted and hunted and hunted and finally found these cocktail forks, spoons, and knives from World Market. They're stainless steel, just the right size, very inexpensive, and they WORK. If there isn't a World Market near you, then try looking for cocktail utensils at other stores.
- Children love to have their own tools to use. My oldest daughter, Lena, is getting these Curious Chef Nylon Knives for her birthday in a few weeks. She's been using a butter knife to cut for a while, but I love the idea of "real" (but safe!) knives for her. Curious Chef also makes a Fruit and Veggie Prep Set and a Measure and Prep Set.
- Little bitty bites of food taste better than regular sized bites of food. FunBites are little food cutters that allow you to cut a whole sandwich into squares in one swoop, rather than doing it the old-fashioned, painstaking way, one bite at a time.
- The best mixing bowl in the world for kids is the Architec HoldBowl. It's lightweight and has a handle and a non-skid bottom. The best part is that it is narrower and deeper than a regular mixing bowl so that when your kids stir things are less likely to go flying out. It's the ONLY bowl I use when cooking with my kids.
- I'm not crazy about the idea of using plastic dishware for children. I recognize that it is easy and non-breakable, but it does have some drawbacks as well. If you're looking for some non-plastic alternatives, we've liked using the Innobaby Din Din Smart Stainless Steel Divided Platter and these glass and silicone plates from Brinware.
- Of course, a cute apron makes cooking more fun for kids as well as adults. You can also make your own!
- While there are lots of great recipes that kids can help with online, nothing beats a cookbook. I love this Kids' Fun and Healthy Cookbook because it features real recipes made with real food.
Cooking With Kids
You're organized, and you've got some great kids' stuff for the kitchen. Now it's time to actually COOK together. Here are some strategies that work for us.
- RELAX. It's just food. Your kids can make mistakes. No one will have any fun (or learn anything) if you're a ball of stress.
- Let your kids be near you. While I try to let my kids help in the kitchen whenever they want, there are just times when there are no child-appropriate jobs for them to do (or I'm having to work quickly). Rather than simply shoo them out of the kitchen, I usually let them pull up a chair or sit on the counter near me to watch. Their "job" is to keep me company. I talk about what I'm doing and why, point out the safety issues to keep in mind, and ask them questions about other kitchen skills or information that may know.
- Be sure that they can comfortably see the counter and work next to you. A good stool or sturdy chair is essential! Make sure that it won't slip and slide all over the floor. Guidecraft makes some really sturdy ones, but you can obviously use what you have as long as it is safe.
- Have a sense of what your kids should be capable of doing. Don't expect your 4-year-old to be able to prepare you a gourmet meal! Thirty Handmade Days has put together an awesome chart that provides some guidelines of kitchen skills by age.
- Let your young children learn to chop with a butter knife. Start with very soft things, like bananas. Next move to things that are a bit firmer, like cucumber or zucchini.
- If your kids are cracking eggs, have them do so into a separate small bowl that you can then pour into a big mixing bowl. That way, if some shells slip in, you haven't ruined a whole bowl of ingredients.
- If your very young child is helping to pour ingredients into a bowl, you can measure the quantity and then pour it into a larger container to hand to your child. If the recipe calls for 1/2 cup of honey, for example, you can pour and measure the honey, then pour the 1/2 cup into a larger measuring cup. This way, your child isn't having to manage balancing a full cup as they maneuver it towards the mixing bowl. Of course, eventually, they'll learn to pour and measure on their own.
- Similarly, you can put your mixing bowl down into the sink while you add ingredients. Your child won't have to reach up and over the edge of a bowl on the counter, and if there are spills you can easily wash them down the drain.
You need to have some basic peace of mind that your children will be safe while they explore your home. Since there are plenty of articles that extensively cover kitchen safety for kids, I'll just hit the biggies!
- Lock cabinets that contain dangerous chemicals or cleaning supplies. For many households, this means the cabinet under the sink. Be sure to also lock the cabinet that has spices, or put them out of reach.
- Use the back burners of your stove and/or turn pot handles inward when you're cooking. It takes one second for a tiny hand to reach up and touch a hot burner or spill a pot of boiling water.
- Sharp knives should be out of reach. WAY out of reach. Duh.
What else can you add to this list? Share your best "Kid Friendly Kitchen" tips with me in the comments below!
This post is part of a "31 Days of Kids Kitchen Activities" hosted by Study At Home Mama. You'll find tons of great recipes and activities to get your kids cooking!
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