Engaging Little Ones in the Cooking Process – New Kitchen Store
Story & Photography Provided by New Kitchen Store
Kids are curious by nature. Everything is brand new and exciting to them, and confusing. Kids observe their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles every day. They pick up habits both good and bad, and some of these habits they don’t truly grasp. They’ll say, “Why do I have to eat my dinner when I just want to play?” or, “Why is mom adding these weird green leaves to the soup?” or, “But I saw dad use the knife, so why can’t I?”
Children want to learn and play, and have vivid imaginations that make anything, including food, a plaything. How many times have parents had to occupy their child with an iPad or TV so they can get dinner or dishes done? Doesn’t it always seem like your child is underfoot, tugging on your pant leg, wanting attention? Then, after you’ve finished the meal, they play with it, ignore their food, or take three bites and declare, “I’m done.” It’s exhausting – an eternal struggle that makes mealtime a chore and even a burden. But what if it wasn’t?
What if we, as parents, grandparents and adults started to include our kiddos in the process? Now, I’m not telling you to have your 3-year-old make you a five-course meal. That’s insane. But the simple things, the seemingly mundane tasks, they can do. Including your kids in a fun and educational process to help teach them how to prep, cook and clean up for meals, especially dinner, will be beneficial not just for your family, but also for their future. Kids are smart. They pick up behaviors and habits, and truly model what we do. They are curious why we do things and want to help. So, it’s high time that we let them.
I am an aunt to a 3-year-old boy. He loves dinosaurs, tractors and Spiderman. When he comes over to auntie Abby’s house, he helps me in the kitchen. In a previous article I talked about our “bubble parties” (aka doing dishes), but it doesn’t stop there. He may be 3, but he can and does help me in the kitchen. Washing fruits and veggies is a simple task, and perfect for little hands. My nephew helps me scrub potatoes, wash berries, and if some strawberries get eaten, no one has to know about it. I ask him to tell me what each food is, its color, and then we talk about them. For example, “That is a strawberry. It’s sweet, see? We’re going to cut it up and add it to our salad.” It makes for learning moments.
I am next to him the entire time we cook in the kitchen. He is kneeling or standing on a stool next to me, at my hip, the entire time. I keep sharp items away from him at all times and explain why we use butterknives to cut strawberries, or I have him wash while I cut. I explain that the knives are sharp, the stove is hot, etcetera. The biggest thing is that I explain why I’m doing something. He loves to grind up spices for me in my mortar and pestle, and we smell the spices. I tell him what they are and we grind them together.
When it comes to cooking meats like ground beef, salmon and chicken, I save this for the older kids to help with. Raw meats are not good for young kids to touch, as they put everything in their mouths. Instead, I use this time for them to observe what I’m doing, explain and let them ask questions. This takes patience and an understanding that dinner may have some hiccups. But trust me, the lessons they learn will be worthwhile.
When you set the table, have them help. Not only is it helpful for you, but it is also excellent for gross motor development for the kiddos. Practice pouring drinks – give them a smaller pitcher and have them practice (in the sink is a good idea, with help) and keep practicing. Spills will happen, and these are learning moments.
What about eating dinner? Kids take genuine pride in what they make. They love to help and will be more eager to eat, especially when they helped to make the meal.
After dishes are clean, have a bubble party and give them a reward. We know we like to reward ourselves as adults with ice cream, a favorite activity or a TV show, so do the same with the kiddos. Let them take pride in a job well-done and choose a reward.
This may seem like a burden or even an annoyance, but trust me, involving kids in the kitchen will give them a sense of responsibility, disperse the chore and make lasting memories. This way we are instilling practical life skills to our children, and honing in on creative abilities that they will use for the rest of their lives.
Here at New Kitchen Store, we have just what you need to get your kids, no matter the age, in the kitchen, from cooking utensils for kids to plates and aprons. We can help you prepare to enlist your little chefs for making their next meal.
New Kitchen Store is located at 330 Liberty Street in Walkerton. For more info, call 574-586-2745 or visit newkitchenstore.com.