Like most toddlers, my son loves to help – or as he puts it so gently, “Wyatt, do it!”
Wyatt wants to take out the trash. Wyatt wants to mow the lawn. Wyatt wants to vacuum the carpet. Wyatt also seems to want to talk about himself in the third person.
It all sounds great on paper, but as great as it is and as much as it annoys him to hear it, he needs to help out in small bits.
So you can imagine how excited I was to hear Wyatt do it! when I was preparing the oven to bake some banana bread. To speak to children, if this were a game the kitchen floor would be lava. I kept Wyatt free of the kitchen as much as possible, especially the oven, the knives and the garbage disposal.
Luckily he hasn’t been particularly interested in the kitchen so far. Now that he is, I don’t want to singe his inquisitive nature. I also love the idea of us working together in the kitchen, mixing our favorite things and creating memories together, which experts say is what cooking with kids is all about.
What are the benefits of cooking with kids at home?
“Cooking with an adult is one of the best activities for kids!” says Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN and Founder and CEO of Kids Eat in Color. “They’re learning an important life skill, they’re able to form relationships with the person they’re cooking with, they’re absorbing their cultural practices, and they’re able to be exposed to more foods that can help with picky eating. Children often interact more with food when they help cook it than when they just see the food on their plate.”
While Wyatt might not be ready to sauté or flambé, he’s willing to sprinkle a sprinkle here or stir a little there. “It’s possible to get babies in the kitchen — even if they’re just sitting in a high chair with a whisk — just watching is beneficial,” Anderson said. “Even small children can help. Many parents worry about the mess, and it is messy when a toddler helps bake. If you feel like you can handle messes and spills and are extra patient, let your toddler help! When you’re exhausted and burned out with baby and toddler, there’s no reason to rush to cook with toddler. You can cook with them when you are ready.”
How can cooking help with picky eating habits?
Aside from the bonding and baked goods that cooking a family can bring, cooking and baking can also help appeal to the kid with the picky palate.
“Cooking with kids is one of the best ways to help your child if they’re a picky eater,” Anderson said. “Kids aren’t expected to eat food when they’re preparing a meal, so it takes the pressure off them. They can touch, smell, or see foods that they would not normally eat. All of that exposure adds up and can help them try new foods. Also, kids often eat a meal they made themselves, even though they wouldn’t eat it if you made the same thing!”
When starting your child in the kitchen for the first time, Anderson suggests sparking their interest with dishes that will enchant their taste buds.
“One of my son’s favorite foods is pancakes, so he learned how to make pancakes,” Anderson said. “My other son wanted to learn to make eggs, so he learned to make eggs. I think the key is to see what your child is interested in and make sure you give them your presence and attention (for safety) and age-appropriate cooking utensils.”
Other things to consider when cooking with kids
Of course you want to have a good appetite after working in the kitchen, but when you’re cooking with kids, prepare for the mayhem, the crazy, and the silly.
“Having fun is the most important thing,” Anderson said. “Your child will probably get tired of cooking before the meal is ready, and that’s okay. The second most important thing is to stay close and make sure your child is doing an activity safely.”
Also, don’t feel bad if you need your kitchen as a safe place from time to time, Anderson shared.
“If you find that cooking with your child is making everyone even more stressed, it’s okay not to cook together for a while,” she said. “Parents go through times when they have the opportunity to cook with children in the kitchen and times when they don’t. I took at least a year off to let the kids “help” me in the kitchen when they were little. We want it to be a positive experience. So if it’s more frustrating than funny, it’s time to take a break.”
While licking the spoon is still out of the question, the fun is still at the table, especially when using some of our most popular kid-friendly (with adult supervision) cooking utensils, recommended by Anderson and buyers alike.
Kitchen toys and cooking utensils for children
StarPack kitchen knife set made of nylon
This set is one of Anderson’s favorite kid-friendly tools (when used with adult supervision). This set comes with three nylon knives (in sizes small, medium, and large) that are sure to cut food, not fingers. This set currently has a strong average of 4.7 stars from over 3,000 verified Amazon buyers and is suitable for ages four and up.
Joie Crinkle Cutter
Adults enjoy fancy food, so why not kids too? Refine fruit and vegetables with this stainless steel waffle cutter. Verified Amazon Buyers Say This Tool Is Great For Little Hands And A Great Starter Tool For Your Little Cook.
Ezpz Happy Mat
Once your culinary triumph is complete, you need to dish it up like a pro! With the top-rated ezpz mat, you’re not just serving your child food—you’re serving it with aesthetics. This silicone mat attaches itself to the table to help with spills and messes. It’s also dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe up to 350°F.
Pottery Barn Mini Cooking Set for Kids
When they’re begging to use the big kids’ pots and pans, get them their own realistic tools so they can cook safely alongside you. This set includes a soup pot, a saucepan, a wooden stir spoon, measuring spoons and an oven mitt. It also has three adorable felted veggies for them to play with while you do the actual cooking.
“Every Night is Pizza Night” by J. Kenji López-Alt
Cookbooks aren’t the only literature when it comes to culinary education. Your kids will love reading the story of a little girl who wants to prove that pizza is the best food in the world. Along the way, she learns a few lessons about food, family, and fun. As a special treat, this book also includes a pizza recipe for families to try at home.
Jazware’s MasterChef Junior Cooking Essentials Set
If you want to be a chef, you have to look like this. Inspired by the kid-friendly MasterChef Junior culinary competition series, this set has everything your budding Michelin-star chef needs.
OXO Good Grips swivel peeler
One of my least favorite kitchen chores is peeling, so this holiday cooking season I’ll happily pass this kitchen tool over to my toddler. With a brilliant 4.8-star average (including over 28,000 five-star reviews from verified Amazon buyers), OXO’s best-selling peeler features a soft, non-slip grip that’s perfect for little hands. Note: While reviewers say this is a great beginner peeler for kids, watch them carefully as the blade is a bit sharp.
KidKraft Uptown Natural Wood Play Kitchen
The KidKraft play kitchen combines craftsmanship with realistic play. This play kitchen is equipped with all the essentials: oven with see-through front, fridge, freezer, microwave and dishwasher. There’s even a chalkboard on the fridge for the little chef to take notes while playing.
Guidecraft Classic Kitchen Gadget
Julia Child also had to start somewhere. Help your little one achieve their culinary dreams by allowing them to reach the kitchen counter with this foldable, easy-to-assemble kitchen gadget. It adjusts to two different heights and features a non-slip mat and Kitchen Helper Keepers net for added security.
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