I always have charming visions of my young daughters and I engaged in kitchen activities. In my imagination, these precious moments are photo-worthy and our harmonious work together yields the most delicious meals and goodies.
And then there’s reality.
While it may not be as ‘grammable, the truth is that cooking with my kids is still totally worth it. Not only does it help them build kitchen skills, but it also gets them to eat healthier because they’ll try what they’ve made. Oh, and it will eventually be helpful to me when they can actually help prep dinner. A win-win.
Here are 5 smart tips that we use ourselves to get kids excited about helping in the kitchen.
CME is an rStyle and Amazon affiliate.
Our editor Stacie recently partnered with one of our Facebook Live sponsors, OXO, makers of some of our favorite kitchen tools and created a live broadcast with her two boys (brave!) on this very topic.
Watch her go over our top five tips with specific advice and tool suggestions that you can see in actual use by actual kids.
You can even see one of said kids eating zucchini raw; how much do you want to bet that never would have happened if he wasn’t helping and it was just served to him on a plate?
Tips to get kids excited about helping in the kitchen:
1. Make prep fun!
How do you make prep work more fun and less work? First off, you give the kids tools that are fun to use.
*If you have kids who like to bang and slam on things like Stacie’s boys, give them an OXO Salad Spinner or an OXO Chopper (top pic). One look at Stacie’s kids putting those tools to work and you’ll see what I mean.
*If you have smaller kids, whisking is a great first job. Grab the Cook’s Carrot or Kitchen Kong Gorilla whisk at Amazon (bottom pic) and maybe be prepared for a few ingredients to fly outside the bowl. It’s all good: I promise they’ll get the hang of it if you stick with it.
*Even if your kids aren’t old enough to use a spiralizer on their own, get one. They turn veggies into ribbons and noodles, and I promise your kids will be more open to zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, cucumber, and whatever else you can run through it. And don’t worry about it taking up too much space: All of us at CME are obsessed with the OXO 3 Blade Hand-Held Spiralizer. It is so compact and easy to use, dishwasher safe too. (Watch Stacie use it in action and you’ll be convinced.)
*One last way to make prep fun: Have the kids help meal plan and shop. The more involved they are, from start to finish, the more likely kids will want to help cook — and eat.
Tip 2. Give kids some ownership in the kitchen
Feeding challenges are often a power struggle and the fastest way to diffuse that is to give kids some, well, power. When it comes to inspiring them to help in the kitchen, that power can come in the form of their own tools and space.
Stacie uses labels to empower her kids in the kitchen and even gives them tools that can be just their own. For example, her little one is obsessed with avocado, so she bought him his own OXO Avocado Slicer that he used like a champ on their Facebook Live.
Her older son is ready for a knife, so uses his very own Opinel Le Petit Chef Knife Set (top pic) which you can grab at Amazon. (The ring positions are genius for teaching little hands proper, safe knife grip.) And my daughter loves using her very own Pastasaurus Pasta Server (bottom pic) that I picked up at Amazon.
It’s honestly amazing how much of a difference giving them ownership in the kitchen can make. In fact, you can even clear out a low level shelf for your kid to place all her own stuff — STAY OUT sign optional.
Tip 3. Make kitchen tasks manageable for your kids
Our post on how to teach kids cooking skills by age is a fantastic place to start if you’re not sure what’s manageable. Just be sure to think of the age ranges as a general guide. You know your own kids best: They may not be ready or perhaps they’re super adept. As long as you teach them how to manage their tasks safely before you let them loose — and also give them plenty of time to safely practice — they’ll be fine.
Oh, and let them advance, too, please. The goal is for them to eventually be able to manage handling a kitchen knife or using the stove. All in good time.
A great place to start is with mixing (see the whisks above), measuring, and rolling. My kids are obsessed with rainbows and love the colorful Joseph Joseph 8-piece Measuring Cups and Spoons at Amazon (top pic); they’re lightweight and make tolerable “music” when toddler hands bang them together.
My girls’ favorite part of making pizza is rolling the dough, and it works out perfectly since it’s my least favorite part. My next purchase is going to be Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Children’s Rolling Pin at Amazon (bottom pic). Break off a little dough ball and let them have at it.
Stacie has older kids, and while the youngest isn’t quite ready for bladed tools, he’s super into the salad spinner and — his proclaimed favorite — the OXO Cherry Pitter. (It’s great for olives too!) This kind of repetitive, focused task is perfect for antsy helpers.
Her older son can manage blades, so he’s the first one to grab the OXO Apple Corer anytime they’re making apple pie, prepping apples for snack time, or adding apple to a quick saute or salad.
Tip 4. Get kids their very own cookbooks
Having great cookbooks that inspire you is key for cooks of any age. So if you want kids to get in the kitchen, get them their own set.
You’ll find that many cookbooks for kids focus on sweets and baking, but there are also some fantastic options for savory cooking too. Check out our list of cookbooks for kids who actually want to learn how to cook. And we love this newer cookbook too: The Lemonade Stand Cookbook.
And, okay, all inspiration doesn’t have to come from books. I may be old school, but I love a good YouTube cooking show, too, and so do my girls. These super fun YouTube cooking shows for kids will get them excited to be in the kitchen as well.
Tip 5. Keep the mood light. (That means snacks.)
Listen, this tip goes for you adults, too, because I get it, cooking can be a hassle. I happen to love it and yet it still feels like a chore to me many nights, because, obligation.
Sometimes the kids may not want to help at first or maybe they get off to an enthusiastic start and peter out. But I find that with a glass of wine or cool drink for me, and some healthy snacks for the kids — and maybe some music for all of us — it’s easier to get the job done and laugh a little as a family too.
So much of what we’re trying to do with kids is get them to develop a healthy relationship with food, and that starts with showing them that preparing food can be a joyful — or at least not painful — task. So have fun, nosh a little, spend time with your family, and feel proud about the food you’re making to help sustain the people you love.
I can think of no better lesson.