ICYMI: Top Chef Jr. premiered last week, and our cooking-show obsessed kids are hooked already. Top Chef has been a favorite in our house for a while, and I love that it’s a bit more sophisticated than many of the other cooking competition shows you can find on cable. The children’s version isn’t watered down either. The Top Chef Jr. contestants are doing many of the same challenges their adult counterparts have to do — with some fun sprinkled in, of course.
When I had the chance to chat with the hosts, Chef Curtis Stone and Vanessa Lachey, by phone recently, I wanted to find out their tips for getting kids into the kitchen. Because I love screen time that inspires active time. And, yeah, it’d be awesome to hand over dinner duty to my kids.
Here’s what they had to say.
Don’t mind the mess
Kids are going to destroy your kitchen: flour everywhere, eggs falling to the floor, and food packaging all over the place. It’s okay. It will clean up. Forget about the mess while you’re cooking with them, and remember that you can teach them another lesson — how to clean — after you’re done.
Kids love the process
For kids, the fun is in the process more than the result. So give them small tasks that they can do on their own: using a kid-safe knife to dice a red pepper, pulling the silks off of an ear of corn, or stirring a pot. While they’re working hard on their small job, you can quickly speed through the rest to keep your dinner on schedule. Lots of praise will keep them focused and happy with their task.
Expose them younger than you’d think
I started letting my kids help me in the kitchen when they were around 2 years old. I’d let them stand near me while I cooked and give them simple tasks like filling up containers of water or stirring a bowl full of ingredients. The younger they are, the more open they’ll be to taking instruction from you. And the better they get at cooking, they more they’ll love doing it. You’ll see that early love develop differently for them too; my oldest son loves cooking over the campfire on backpacking trips, my daughter loves to bake, and my other two love trying anything that I ask them to do, as long as we’re together.
If you need guidance on coming up with age appropriate kitchen tasks, check out our helpful guide to teaching kids cooking skills by age.
Keep them safe
While all of the experts, including us, encourage you to get kids into the kitchen very early on, it can be a dangerous place. In addition to our tips on teaching young kids cooking skills, we’ve also pulled together these essential kitchen safety rules that will help ensure that nobody gets cut, burned, or otherwise hurt.
Don’t let this scare you, though! Just be aware and maybe even have the kids practice. For example, let them stir a pot before you turn on the heat. Curtis told us he sets up his toddlers in the kitchen sink to make sure they don’t fall off a chair. Be creative!
When my kids watch shows like Top Chef, they immediately want to make what they’ve seen on TV. I asked Curtis and Vanessa if they’d be sharing the recipes from the dishes that get judged, and it’s good news: Yes, they’ll share recipes for the winning dishes, just as Top Chef has always done. But for the rest, they want parents to get in the kitchen and experiment with their kids. See if you can figure out how to make what the kid contestants are making without a recipe!
It may not always turn out exactly how you hoped, but that’s a good lesson for budding chefs (and maybe for you too). Giving your kids the freedom to try — and fail — in the kitchen will serve them well in all parts of their lives.
Watch Top Chef Jr. on Universal Kids every Friday at 8/7C PM.