Making meals at home is healthy and economical. Getting your kids to help make those meals will help teach them about nutrition, practice fundamental skills like adding and halving measurements, help boost self-confidence, and strengthen family bonds. But how do you approach turning your children into reliable sous chefs?
PLAYING THE PART
Make all children, regardless of age, feel like they belong in the kitchen, that way they’re more inclined to stay and help. Purchase an appropriate sized apron, give them their own cutting board, work area, and tools. You don’t have to get child-specific tools, use the smaller versions of what you already own, like a paring knife or the shortest wooden spoon. If you want to spend money, then look into brightly colored tools: the colors appeal more to kids, but your child won’t ‘outgrow’ the tools. The one item that should be purchased, if not already, is a sturdy step stool so your child can work comfortably and safely at the counter. If you have a kitchen island, having your child sit on a bar chair at the island might work too.
TODDLERS TO YOUNG SCHOOL AGE
When kids are this young they typically can’t sit still and infinitely offer assistance. Put them to work doing menial, hands-on tasks like kneading dough, tearing lettuce leaves, being in charge of a timer, pouring pre-measured ingredients, or simply being the official taster. Be sure your kids know the importance of hand washing prior to food preparation, understand basic safety rules around the oven and stove, and can comfortably reach their work area.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE
By the time kids are in elementary school they should have a few favorite dishes, so sit down with your child and plan weekly menus, or let her pick the entire meal for a certain day, that’ll get her excited to help prepare the meal. Begin showing your children proper knife techniques, give them paring knives to start out, and go more in depth with cooking terms, techniques, and safety rules like cross contamination, separating eggs, and shifting ingredients. Then have them separate eggs, sift ingredients, peel potatoes, use the hand mixer, stir soups, and anything else you think your child can handle (with adult supervision). Keep a first aid kit nearby, and know how to take care of burns and cuts, as accidents happen to the best of us.
If your teenagers have been regulars in the kitchen since childhood, they should be well versed in kitchen safety and cooking techniques. Give them dishes to prepare from start to finish, or let them take risks with ingredient substitutions. If you eat a delicious meal at a restaurant, ask your teen to help you recreate a home version. Older or very comfortable junior chefs can plan and prepare a family meal where you take on the role of their sous chef. It’ll boost your child’s confidence to prepare a meal from scratch for the whole family.