I don’t like cooking.
I wish I did. Instead, I find cooking stressful, especially with interruptions to separate squabbling kids.
Cooking with my kids “helping” is even harder. It takes longer. It’s messier. Explaining everything takes more energy, and so does making sure the kids don’t burn or cut themselves.
So why do I keep cooking with my kids?
I want them to be able to cook. I may not like cooking, but I can do it. It’s one of those able-to-function-as-an-adult skills we want our kids to learn.
And here is the undeniable fact: my kids love to cook. So sometimes, when I’m closer to the top of my mom-game, I bring one or two in as partners. We have reaped (and sometimes eaten) all kinds of benefits. For example . . . .
I might feel stressed out, but to them it’s a cool activity with mom. My oldest enjoyed getting his hands messy with the granola recipe in Salad People and More Real Recipes, one of our favorite kid-friendly cookbooks.
Shaping bread dough, like playing with Play-doh, strengthens fingers. My older kids make pizza crusts that are way more presentable than mine.
There’s confidence that comes from learning a skill, and I want my kids to build that in lots of areas. (See The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience, by Martin E. P. Seligman.)
The first time I let my youngest help, he said, “I am so proud!” I think he even clapped his hands when he said it. My older kids can make pancakes unaided and know how to measure and mix all kinds of things.
I showed my daughter how to use fractions in real life when we did multiples of a recipe. Want a challenge? Try tripling 1 ¾ cups of milk.
Flipping pancakes is probably good for three-dimensional thinking—that’s good for math, right? (Ok, yes, that one might be tenuous, but I’m still impressed with my two older kids for their flipping.)
Cooking with Kids: Long-term benefits
With enough practice, the mom-stress decreases. My older two kids can now produce pancakes with almost no help.
My oldest is now my official helper several times a week. Now that he’s helping to plan (and wash pots and pans!), our menu options are expanding. With very little help from me, he produced these scones.
He made chocolate-dipped pretzels completely on his own.
Tips for Cooking with Kids
Don’t try it when you’re in a rush or grumpy.
Expect that it will be messy.
They don’t know the things that are instinctive to you, like don’t put something unwashed on top of the clean cutting board, or don’t touch the hot pan.
Here are some of our favorite recipe books for cooking with kids. They have lots of pictures for the steps. They’re available at the library or from Amazon.