10 Ways your children can help in the kitchen

I was looking at some of the photos in my upcoming cookbook, The Warm Kitchen, and stopped on the page with my daughter’s hand helping with the gluten-free tortillas. I looked at it and recalled she and I making one of her favorite dishes. It got me thinking about how important it is to have kids help in the kitchen and become involved in the process of prepping.

My friend Jennifer Lee over at Crunch a Color has a blog devoted to involving your kids in the kitchen and developed a game to encourage healthy eating at the dinner table. Having them help in the kitchen is one strategy for getting your kids to eat better. They are more likely to eat what they cook or have helped prepare.

I think the number one thing you need to do in the kitchen with your kids is keep them safe. I would suggest the following 3 things at a minimum. Keep them away from:

  • Raw meat (if they might eat or lick it)
  • Anything hot (after a friend’s 9 yr old daughter had a terrible accident with a hot cup of tea, I’m much more strict about what my kids do in the kitchen)
  • Sharp knives, unless they are being supervised

With that being said, my son has helped me roll meatballs, my daughter has helped cook pancakes, and both have used knives; with me standing next to them. So, use this list based on your judgment and your children since you know them best. I hope this encourages you! Check this blog for great family-friendly recipes.

10 Ways Children Can Help in the Kitchen

1. Make salad/rip lettuce: Make sure their little hands are clean and then get them to work. They can rip lettuce with their hands, spin the salad spinner (a favorite in our house) or add veggies to the bowl. I assumed my kids would not eat salad until they were older but my neighbor (with slightly older children) offered my son salad at 2 years old. It is now a staple in our diet.
Check out this post.

 2. Mash things that are not hot: I remember when my daughter was born, I was looking for ways to give my son extra attention; having him help me cook was one way I did that. While I was trying to make dinner, I propped him up on a stool with a bowl and some cooked (but not hot) potatoes and let him go to town. Other things that can be mashed: cauliflower, butternut squash, broccoli, bananas, or even strawberries for shortcake.
Try this delicious gluten-free banana crunch muffin.

3. Cut with a plastic knife: I never thought a toddler could cut broccoli, but I was proved wrong (see above photo). A friend stood nearby and watched her while we cooked dinner. She loved “helping” and it kept her busy. I’m not sure if I would have given this task to my son; my daughter was always much calmer and I trusted her. Make sure what they are cutting is soft like melon, a peeled cucumber, broccoli, mushrooms, etc. 

4. Stir a sauce: If you are making a sauce either for dipping or for a marinade, let your child watch you measure and then allow them to mix it up. Often times, I would pour the ingredient into the cup or spoon and she would pour it into the bowl. Both of them love to use a whisk to mix it up.
Try this recipe for Duck Sauce.
5. Baste meat: Although this is an activity that requires more supervision (no finger licking allowed!), using a brush to baste chicken, fish, or beef is a lot of fun!
6. Roll meatballs: Recently, while making dinner, I realized I just needed some help. I got my daughter to prep the salad (she’s 7 now) and my son to roll the meatballs (he’s 9) while I mixed the meat and portioned it out on the tray. For some reason, my daughter has always liked to roll meatballs, too. It was such a satisfying experience to have the 3 of us in the kitchen working on dinner. You don’t want to do this with a child who is too young and who might eat the raw meat or lick their hands; supervision is most definitely suggested.
7. Measure flour and/or ingredients: When you are making things like pancakes, waffles, muffins, or even, cookies, it’s really okay if not everything is exact. I would rather have my kids in the kitchen helping than worrying about making the perfect dish. There’s no doubt; this is something my daughter likes to help with rather than my son. Now she has learned how to level off the flour and the baking soda or powder, measure sugar (her favorite ingredient), and use a liquid measuring cup. A lot of this takes patience when they are young but will pay off later.
Making your own pancakes is easy! If you are not GF, here’s a recipe for whole grain pancakes.
8. Roll dough: There’s a reason why playdough is so popular; kids love to roll things. Now, maybe you don’t want them rolling your famous holiday pumpkin pie but there’s always something they can do like the extra pastry or pizza dough or even cookies. They can use a regular rolling pin, kid’s one, or just their hands. Just keep an eye on what goes in their mouth if the dough has anything raw in it like eggs.
9. Mix a batter: Whether it’s pancakes or pudding, give them the whisk, paddle, or spatula and let them go to town. Just make sure the batter stays in the bowl!
Why not try French toast? It can easily be adapted to gluten-free
10. Decorate cakes or cookies: Make cake and cookie decorating more fun and less like Cake Boss. Let them add color, candy, frosting, etc. Just be careful to not over do it on the sugar!
Here’s a post on regular gingerbread cookies and icing.
Do you have any more to add to this list? If so, please leave a comment!

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