It can seem like a great idea to cook together with your kids, when you’re all stuck at home. But then the eggs hit the floor and your kids start squabbling. Suddenly your imagined “quality time” has curdled into a recipe for disaster.
Let’s turn down the heat. Here are some tips to ensure everyone has fun and stays safe in the kitchen. Plus, we’ve found kid-approved recipes that are easy to make together, with options for preschoolers all the way up to teens. So let’s grab an apron and start.
For preschoolers and smaller children, it helps to choose a time when they’re well-rested and less distracted. Their attention lasts longer if they can see what you are doing way up there on the counter, so give them a stool to stand on. It’s also a smart idea to have another adult in the kitchen to help you keep an eye on safety – especially if you’re handling more than one kid at the same time.
You can give your kids two or three recipe options (if you’re feeling enthusiastic), but stick to recipes you feel confident about. You don’t even need to use the cooker. You’re still teaching your kids valuable chef skills when they help you peel bananas to make dessert or they stir nuts into maple syrup to make a healthy topping for yoghurt.
For preschoolers, it helps them focus if you read recipes together before you cook – read out loud in a fun and exciting voice, just like you are reading a bedtime story. Primary school kids who are already reading often like to read along with you. Get them involved in talking about the recipe too. Do they want to add their own twist to it? For example, they can add more cheese or tip frozen peas into mini cheese omelette bites.
Tip: These bites freeze well, so you’ve got Stay@Home snacks for days.
If you have more than one kid in the kitchen, think about what tasks they can do in a recipe before you’re also juggling hot pans and supervising junior chefs in action. For example, small kids can help count out how many eggs go into a dish or help you wash fruit and veggies. Kids older than five can cut fruit or use a cookie cutter to make cookie shapes. Kids who can read can call out ingredients from the recipe while you put them out on the counter, or each kid can take turns adding toppings to a pizza.
Tip: If sharing one pizza causes squabbles, use smaller ready made pizza bases and let your kids design individual pizzas.
It’s tempting to try and use cooking as a way to encourage kids to eat more vegetables. If that works for you, great! But since the goal here is to have fun, it’s easier to start with foods they already like. Like cookies sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. If your kids like marshmallows, they’ll love helping you use marshmallows to decorate bunny cupcakes.
Tip: To sneak veggies in, add 1 very finely grated carrot or zucchini to cupcakes. It makes the texture more dense, but does not affect the taste.
Choose an easy recipe from a place you visited with the kids, and it’s sure to start them reminiscing about the trip and chatting with you. This Japanese Okonomiyaki noodle pancake is good because it’s made with ingredients you probably already have in the pantry. Pre-teens and teens may be able to fry the noodles into crispy pancakes, with supervision. Younger kids can open packets, squirt in hoisin sauce, crack eggs, and help you chop and thaw vegetables – frozen peas and beans work very well with this recipe.
Measuring is a great learning tool… but preschoolers and primary school kids tend to be happiest when they have just one or two ingredients to measure, like flour and oil. If your kids are older, and they’re enjoying the measuring process, encourage them to measure ingredients onto individual smaller bowls – like the way it’s done on cooking shows. This way, if they accidentally pour extra oil into the mixing bowl, it’s not a disaster. For smaller kids, you can pre-measure ingredients into bowls, so they just have to pour chocolate chips into the batter.
Put sharp knives on a high shelf, and set up your junior chef’s workstation well away from the cooker and oven. Remind them often what’s okay to touch and which kitchen tools are for grown-ups only – preschoolers must learn not to touch moving electric beaters, hot woks and cookers.
Even older kids need safety reminders, especially if they’re at the cooker, or using appliances and knives. If this sounds like more stress than you need right now, why not try a recipe that doesn’t need the cooker at all like this?
You’re already obsessed with washing your hands now, but it can be harder to get kids into this healthy habit. Kids love cookie recipes that let them use their hands – so encourage them to wash their hands before and after cooking. Traditional cornflake cookies can be measured out using two spoons, or your kids can roll the mixture between their freshly washed hands.
Your kid might drop flour on the floor or smash the egg flat. It’s irritating… but try to let go of perfection and focus on the great life skills you’re passing on, like counting and nutrition. Even if things don’t go perfectly, do compliment your junior chefs on how well they have done. Then let them try again another day. Little by little, your child will gain valuable life skills and more confidence and resilience. That’s a recipe for success, right?