Just like everything else food and nutrition related these days, there is a ‘picture-perfect’ (or should that be ‘Pinterest-perfect’?!) way to get your kids involved in the kitchen. It looks a little something like this:
If you are a parent, I am sure you are laughing hysterically at that image right about now.
There is not a smidgen of mess in that kitchen.
Everyone is so smiley.
The siblings aren’t fighting with each other.
They are all wearing matching outfits…..wait, what?!
Yep. You guessed it – this is the fake happy families we get served up, just like we do pictures of abs, tanned skin, white teeth, smoothie bowls and yoga headstands to make us feel inadequate.
Parents have enough to deal with without needing to feel like they are doing a crappy job when it comes to sharing cooking and food skills with their children.
But getting kids in the kitchen exposed to, and helping, with food prep, cooking, washing up and of course taste testing, teaches them valuable life skills, helps to overcome food fears, increases the variety of food eaten and most importantly, develops an enjoyment of food.
I don’t have children myself, so I turned to my lovely colleagues from across the globe, for their tips and experiences with kids in the kitchen.
To talk about what it is REALLY like to have kids in the kitchen. To dispel the myth that it is super easy and to offer encouragement to keep going.
OK, strap in parents!
It starts before you get in the kitchen
“Get kids involved even before the kitchen. So, don’t just dump them in the supermarket trolley, pushing them around while they whinge that they are bored. Get them to HELP choose the ingredients for dinner. Get them to help unpack them on the kitchen bench. Use the opportunity to talk about what fruits and veggies you have bought and what you will do with them. This then helps with getting them interested in the whole cooking process in the kitchen – they become excited to see what the end result of their adventure will be!” – Tara Leong, university qualified Nutritionist, The Nutrition Guru and The Chef and Baby Guru Nutrition
“Pick actual kitchen utensils that they can use…rubber spatulas, measuring cups, wooden spoons, bowls, pots, etc. Letting them use the same utensils they’ve seen you use in the kitchen helps them feel like they are actually cooking.” – Brynne McDowell, Registered Dietitian, The Domestic Dietitian
There WILL be mess and chaos
“They WILL want to do it on their own, which does get messy. Let them do it, deal with a bit of mess and enjoy the moment! Depending on how you go about it, clean up can be part of the fun too!” – Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDE, Your Choice Nutrition
“If they want to taste something that seems strange to you, like raw pizza dough, uncooked pasta or still frozen vegetables, roll with it! It’s all part of the learning experience.” – Diana K. Rice, RD, The Baby Steps Dietitian
“Yep, it results in more mess, they get in the way, play with things they shouldn’t (like taking everything out of the cupboards), it takes four times as long, and usually they lose interest about 15 minutes in, but…it’s always worth it as a great way to spend time together, and provide repeated exposures to lots of different foods.” – Rebecca Russell, Healthy Food Saving You Money
For older kids
“Mine are Primary School age, but I get them to go through cookbooks to decide what they want to eat (on Meatless Monday for example). Give them some ownership (and they) are more likely to help me in the kitchen and to eat what we have made.” – Lucinda Koch, nutrition student
“Let them lead. My oldest son didn’t express interest until age 11, now he’s excited about helping in the kitchen. While it’s important to get them involved, don’t overlook how important it is to meet them where they are.” – Regan Jones, RD, Founding Editor HealthyAperture.com
“They will bake muffins once in Food Tech and then be like, “Mum if you’re going to add berries to these muffins you’re making, you’d best leave it ‘til the end otherwise you can get an unappealing colour” and you just have to suck that up.” – Susan Williams, Principal Dietitian, Zest Nutrition Consulting
“Something that might spark the interest of parents is the constant reminders from the schools to take time to do reading and maths activities at home with the kids, well into the kitchen we go, reading = recipes, maths = measuring ingredients, especially important for all the yummy baked goods and if you are doubling a batch of cookies, whole numbers, fractions, no brainer!” – Tracy Thompson, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Enjoy Nutrition
On managing your expectations of the experience
“They may be more willing to nibble on uncooked potato and garlic than the finished product. Simple “help” like washing veggies, grating, or roughly chopping with kid safe knives keeps kids involved and may result in oddly chopped food, but that’s okay! Sometimes kids drag their feet about helping in the kitchen, but once they get started they love the time spent together. Even if they have a grand time, keep expectations low about how much of it they will want to eat. For some kids cooking leads to eating. For others, cooking just leads to cooking.” – Adina Pearson, RD, HealthyLittleEaters.com
“Don’t let your food rules, hang ups or perfectionism get in the way. If your child wants to make a packet cake mix or a stir fry using a jar sauce, hold back you food snobbery for their sense of achievement.” – Susan Williams, Principal Dietitian, Zest Nutrition Consulting
“They won’t give up the bowl so you can actually bake it (and cry when you ask that we leave some batter for actual baking instead of eating). They’ll loiter around the kitchen whining that they can’t wait any longer for it to finish in the oven. They’ll whine that it’s too hot to eat. They’ll insist on cracking the eggs and there’s going to be egg shell in your food. They’ll be excited to help for a while, then hop down from their step and ask why they have to do all your jobs.” – Stina Oftedal, PhD Dietitian, Dietitian_stina
“They will want to help out with a new dinner they have chosen (lasagne, because Garfield eats it) and you’re thinking yourself, “Oh I have got this! Best Mum ever. They are actually going to enjoy something different for once and they’re excited and helping.” Then when it’s time to eat, it totally freaks them out and they have one mouthful.” – Nicole Kopel, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Eat in Peace
“Say “yes” to their requests to “help” because you don’t know when they will want to help again.” – Natalie Thompson, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Delectable Dietetics
Some final words
“A good sense of humour, recalibrate expectations, a readied dish cloth and the mantra, “That’s okay, there’s no such thing as mistakes in the kitchen”, will get you further than you could imagine.” – Lindsay Buchanan, RD, Evolve Nutrition Counselling
“They CAN do it! Kids love to show us what they can do. When we allow them to try, magical things happen. Spreading butter on toast, cracking an egg, rinsing the veggies, setting the table, clearing away. Opportunity + fun + positive expectation = mastery.” – Deb Blakely, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Kids Dig Food
“It’s not about the food prep/meal, it’s about the process, the bonding, the life-long skill building, the shared experience, the sense of accomplishment from both the child and parent. Allow for some extra time, allow for some extra ingredients, extra utensils and at the end of it an extra delicious meal made with love.” – Jodie Sheraton, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Director, Myrtle Oak Clinic
So what do you think? Has this provided a welcome reality check? Has it taken some pressure off? I want to say a BIG thank you to everyone who contributed to this article!
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