We’re traveling this week and next, so I’m sharing some of my favorite posts from the archives. Since I talked a little bit about our new “assigned meal prep days” in Monday’s post, this seemed like an appropriate follow-up!
Our girls are constantly asking to help in the kitchen, and—if I’m honest—I still cringe a little bit every time they do, even though I’m making it a priority to include them.
For me, cooking can be stressful because it doesn’t come naturally or easily to me, and as an introvert, I tend to use my time in the kitchen to think…something that’s just not possible with little ones underfoot.
But I’ve been on a quest for the past year to include them more often, and the one-at-a-time rule has made a huge difference; I no longer feel pressured to include everybody (which quickly results in me feeling overwhelmed and — ahem — snappy), and instead use that as special one-on-one time with whoever happens to be my helper at the moment.
This summer we’ve been especially focused on kitchen skills, and I have a feeling we’ll always look back at it as a milestone year as they begin preparing more and more meals with little to no assistance. In fact, our oldest daughters are actually a huge help to me in the kitchen now, whether it’s making a simple meal, chopping veggies or simply helping me serve. While it takes an investment of time in the beginning, the benefits have far outweighed the work with these two. That inspires me to keep teaching them because—let’s face it—we could all use a sous chef!
Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned so far about making our time in the kitchen peaceful and effective for everybody:
Know Their Personalities
My two oldest girls have wildly different personalities, and while some of the differences in the kitchen can be attributed to their age difference (which is only about 17 months), most of it has to do with their personalities.
Our oldest will take any recipe she’s given and tackle it with confidence, sure that she can do it without any help. That means I have to make sure she actually does know what she’s doing before we get too far into the recipe. On the other hand, it also means she can be turned loose in the kitchen more often and she’s really the more independent of the two of them.
Our second, on the other hand, prefers detailed directions as she’s learning, and she needs someone in the kitchen with her just for moral support. However, she is much more focused, and I find it easier to have her help me with dinner prep, even when I’m frazzled, because she focuses on the job at hand without bouncing all over the kitchen or talking about a million different things at once.
Knowing this about each of them helps me plan our kitchen time together so that it’s peaceful and effective for all of us!
Kitchen mistakes are messy and often costly, but that makes it even more important to expect mistakes when you invite your kids into the kitchen. You’ll be less frustrated if you expect the mistakes and messes and pleasantly surprised when they don’t happen!
While some mistakes result from carelessness—dropping eggs on the floor, spilling a liquid measuring cup, etc.—many of them are just part of the learning curve.
For example, while making pancakes for the first time, our 7-year-old accidentally doubled the amount of milk in the recipe, resulting in very runny batter. The “2 cup” measurement confused her, and even though we were using a liquid measuring cup that held 2 cups of milk, she thought she needed to do it twice. An understandable mistake, and—luckily—one that I was able to easily fix by quickly doubling the rest of the recipe as well.
Not Everything Is As Obvious As It Seems
While our girls are increasingly capable in the kitchen, there are many cooking nuances that they just don’t have the life or kitchen experience to recognize yet. Like the measuring issue above, I’m realizing that not everything is as obvious to them as it seems to me, and I try to anticipate the questions or misunderstandings that might crop up before they actually do.
But the other part of that is being patient with them as they figure out when to flip pancakes, the best way to slice an apple and why we do things in the order we do them!
Cook Every Recipe Together the First Time
For that reason, and knowing that even recipes intended for kids can trip them up when they include a new ingredient or skill, we always cook recipes together the first time through. Sometimes that just means I cook something else or wash dishes while they work on their recipe, but the key is being readily available to oversee what they’re doing and answer questions so that they’re not left to try to figure it out by themselves!
We Can All Use a Little Encouragement
The other day our oldest daughter made eggs in a nest for everybody for the first time. Our home was a chaotic mess at the time, as my husband tried to get out the door for an appointment and the dog successfully stole one of the finished eggs off a plate, and everybody was running around a bit frazzled. In the midst of all of that, she was able to keep her focus on what she was cooking and serve a delicious, healthy breakfast. Afterward, I took her aside and told her how delicious the eggs were and how proud I was of her focus while things were going crazy, and her whole face lit up. I think it’s safe to say that that encouragement is something she’ll carry with her for a long time.
Similarly, the girls have developed a fun tradition where they say “thank you” all at once to whomever prepared each meal, and it’s as fun to hear them call out, “Thank you, Peyton!” or “Thank you, Dylan!” as it is when they direct their thanks to me!
It’s Still Okay to Say No
Finally, there are still times when I need the kitchen to myself—for speed or sanity or so I can get creative or think while I cook—and I really do think it’s okay to say no sometimes when they ask to help. That’s a lot easier when I’ve said yes recently, but life is full of seasons, and there will be weeks when they can cook many things and weeks where they only get to help once or twice, and that’s okay!
Involving them in the kitchen has also taught me a lot about myself as a parent, and it’s been good for our individual relationships with the girls as well. And I’ll admit I’m looking forward to the day when they can cook—and clean up the kitchen afterward—without any help from me. What a treat that will be!
What’s the hardest part about having kids in the kitchen for you? Have any of your kids graduated to sous-chef status?
**originally published in July 2013