We all know that cooking with kids is recommended. Research shows that it encourages kids to have a more adventurous palate and promotes family bonding, among a host of other benefits.
But the truth is, cooking with LITTLE kids can be a real circus act.
Take, for example, the time when my mini sous chef decided to use the kitchen faucet as a fire hose. Or when and my little pastry queen turned our kitchen floor into a sugary beach. Of course, these things always seem to happen while something is burning on the stove and someone needs a massive diaper change. UGH. So much for family bonding, right?
The reality is, on most nights, it's hard enough to get a meal on the table without our kids' "help." So how can we reap the benefits of cooking with kids without the headache?
As someone who's made a lot of rookie mistakes, but stubbornly keeps trying, here are five things I've learned.
1. Don't attempt to cook with your kids right before dinner. If you actually need to get a real meal on the table in 30 minutes or less, don't even attempt to involve your kids. It will be a disaster. Instead, give your kids a snack sampler and find a time to involve them when the clock isn't ticking.
2. Give kids age-appropriate mini tasks. Cooking should be fun, so it's important to keep your child's fine motor skills and attention span in mind. Beyond measuring, mixing and pouring, a few good tasks for preschoolers include shucking corn, pulling the leaves off Brussels sprouts, sorting dried beans and washing lettuce leaves. (Hint: This leafy greens washing machine game gets my kids to eat their greens every time).
3. Make veggies a priority. Sure, baking is fun and kids can learn a lot from measuring and mixing. But kids usually don't need encouragement to eat sweets. So, as often as I can, I involve my kids in recipes that allow them to get their hands on vegetables, even if it's just serving themselves a deconstructed chopped salad.
4. Do food science. Okay, so this isn't exactly cooking, but the idea is the same and can be just as much (if not more) fun. Fruits, vegetables and other ingredients are great tools for science experiments.
5. Make it a scheduled activity. When I lack the creativity or energy to come up with a fun cooking activity, I turn to the pros. We LOVE the cooking classes at The Kids Table, where my kids have learned to like (or at least try) everything from lentils to tofu. Next on my list is to try a kid-focused recipe kit from Raddish or Kidstir. These could even make for great holiday presents.