When food is love, what better way to show your love and share that joy than by bringing your kids into the kitchen. Busy parents trying to get food on the table may find it difficult to get their kids involved in meal preparation, but taking the time to network and cook meals together can be a lifelong gift.
when to start
Many parents concerned about safety (and cleanliness and time) wonder when it’s the right time to take their kids into the kitchen to help. Chef Ofri Gilan, cooking instructor, presenter and owner of Asheville Mountain Kitchen believes parents should bring their children into the kitchen as soon as they show interest.
“Take advantage of their curiosity and seize the opportunity to spend time with them and embrace their wonder,” Gilan said.
Chef/teacher Brian Ross of The Asheville Kitchen said preschoolers could usually come in and help.
“Of course, all kids develop differently, but I remember making pasta with my son when he was 4,” Ross said. “Even if they don’t understand all facets of what goes on in the kitchen, this encounter at a young age can help.”
What tasks can they do?
Keep kitchen chores at an age-appropriate level and let the kids learn along the way.
“Some of the best things kids can do to get started in the kitchen are cleaning things and measuring things,” Ross said. “Cleaning, like literally washing fruit and veg, but also removing stems and seeds, is easy and fun. Measuring starts with understanding quantities and the need for precision.”
Gilan recommends giving very young children a piece of dough (even play dough) so they feel like they are working with you.
“You can sort beans, roll out dough and even chop,” Gilan said. “There are special kitchen knives for children with safety features. More than anything, kids want your time. It won’t be perfect and it can get messy, but it’s great for kids to spend time with you and learn with you.”
What tools can children use?
Ross, who teaches children’s summer cooking camps, gives his students a gift bag of useful kitchen supplies at the end of camp.
“I put in the things that I think they will need the most and are basic for beginners – measuring cup and spoon, a plastic scraper, a wooden spoon, a whisk and a good spatula,” Ross said.
Gilan says parents can help kids get started with simple tools like a pizza cutter, tongs, and special kids’ knives.
Which recipes are suitable for young chefs?
Gilan said she speaks to a lot of parents who are only comfortable with baking.
“I encourage parents to go beyond just baking and not be afraid to get involved in cooking,” she said. “I would advise parents to look for recipes with simple ingredients and procedures, like roasted vegetables, pizza and pasta.”
Ross agreed that straightforward recipes with basic techniques are a good place to start.
“I like recipes that teach kids how to fold, how to fold, what it means to cream something like butter and sugar, how to mix and knead a dough,” Ross said. “I often start kids with pizza dough, cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and a whipped cream cake, which requires multiple techniques.”
What is the value of getting our children into the kitchen early?
Yes, it can mean that meal prep takes longer, but taking the time to teach and discover with kids in the kitchen can create practical lessons that last a lifetime.
“Connecting with your kids shows them your love, and helping them create and cook in the kitchen has so much value,” Gilan said. “I think there’s empowerment in kids when they learn how to make food, where it comes from and feel good about making it themselves. They also teach them healthy habits for life.”
“There’s an element of cooking that kids — and adults for that matter — find more fun when they’re comfortable with their surroundings,” Ross said. “Being exposed to the different foods, devices, work environments, and basic techniques helps achieve that feeling sooner rather than later. I work with many adults who want to learn more cooking skills and say they are intimidated by anything cooking entails. So I think the earlier that ease in the kitchen is achieved at a young age, the better chance there is of a spark of interest.”