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Overcoming the Stress of Having Kids in the Kitchen {Eat Well, Spend Less}

stress-free cooking with kids
source: eyeliam

For this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme, we’re talking about kids in the kitchen…

Although I’m learning to enjoy my time in the kitchen, I still find it a bit stressful. I have to really focus and concentrate so that I don’t make stupid mistakes, and things that might seem obvious to someone with plenty of cooking experience often trip me up.

When you add four little girls to that mix who want to help, it often results in frustration for all of us.

And yet I want to have them in the kitchen with me — to help give them the skills and experience early, to bond over the meals we’re preparing and so that they can have a new appreciation for the food that we eat.

So, how do I balance these two things?

Surprisingly, it was my two-year-old daughter, who is affectionately known as “The Tyrant”, who taught me the answer.

Feeling left out when her big sisters go outside to play in the afternoons, she’s often stuck inside with me.  To make this time special for her and not focus on what she’s missing out on, I started inviting her to help me with a variety of chores…sorting and folding laundry, cleaning up toys and, yes, cooking dinner.

And I realized that having just one 2-year-old in the kitchen to focus on — something that’s never happened in our house before because our two year old’s have always had a baby sister until this one! — is so much easier than even having two of the older girls in there.

One at a Time

While there are moms who are much better at managing multiple kids in the kitchen, I realized that, for me, sticking to just one helper at a time is the answer. Rather than trying to carry on multiple conversations and delegate jobs fairly to multiple children, one of my girls can help me each step of the way all by herself. It’s much more peaceful and becomes a treasured time for just the two of us.

As far as making sure everybody has a turn, I’m not big on following set schedules or rotations because life isn’t always fair and things don’t always work out in perfect order. Instead, I’ll invite one of the girls to help me in the kitchen, keeping in mind what other one-on-one time we’ve had recently, who may need extra mommy time that day and a million other factors. It’s not a perfect system (more like an anti-system…), but it works for us!

Teach Independent Skills

Another thing that’s really helped is a focus on teaching my girls skills that they can then do independently as we’re cooking together. Cracking a raw egg (or slicing a hard-boiled egg), cutting tomatoes, peeling carrots and measuring ingredients are actually really helpful when we’re making a meal, so it’s worth investing some time in teaching these skills so that my older girls can help prepare egg salad or a dinner salad, add and mix ingredients in a bowl and more.

Let Them Do Easy Tasks

Even my four year old can serve snacks to her sisters, and these kind of easy tasks are a great no-stress way to get kids involved in the kitchen and give them confidence for future tasks.

Easy tasks in our house include things like:

  • serving cookies, crackers and whole pieces of fruit
  • setting the table
  • getting ingredients out (and putting them away)
  • spreading peanut butter on bread or crackers

Invite Them to Keep You Company Even When They Can’t Help

Sometimes when I’m trying a new dish, I just can’t have the girls assisting because it’s too overwhelming forme. But that doesn’t mean they’re banned from the kitchen entirely. Instead, one of them will crawl up at the breakfast bar with something to color, and we chat while I’m cooking. They still get to spend time with mom, see the work that goes into preparing food and learn about various processes, ingredient choices, etc.

We’re all learning to enjoy and treasure our time in the kitchen together!

For more tips on involving your kids in the kitchen, check out the other Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers:

  • Aimee from Simple Bites
  • Amy from Kingdom First Mom
  • Carrie from Denver Bargains
  • Jessica from Life as Mom
  • Katie from Good Life Eats
  • Katie from Kitchen Stewardship
  • Shaina from Food for My Family
  • Tammy from Tammy’s Recipes

Do your kids help in the kitchen? How do you make that time stress-free for your family?