Start Off Easy
At first, children want to help in the kitchen, so give them a simple task that is not dangerous (no knives, graters, hot ovens, etc.). This will show them that cooking, like building, sewing, and other complex tasks, is accomplished one step at a time.
If you want to encourage your children to cook, start with recipes they like to eat. If you’re here because your kids follow you into the kitchen, here are some ideas to blend them into the process without having things get out of control too quickly:
- Ask them to stir the mixture, holding on to the bowl, while you attend to another part of the recipe. [Let them know that you are grateful for the help and that they should try hard to keep it in the bowl.]
- Have them measure out ingredients
- Ask them to spread the frosting on the cake.
- Have them sprinkle the cheese on the pizza.
- Use the melon ball tool to make Fruit Balls or Jello Balls from Jello!
- Spread mayonnaise on bread for sandwiches.
- Pour just a little salad dressing on the salad and toss.
- Show them how to arrange one place setting at the table. Then ask them to set one place for each of the others who will be eating. You may want to bring any heavy dishes to the table first.
Give them their own space to work. Otherwise, they are sure to be in the way eventually.
We have always encouraged our children to play make-believe. It stimulates their imagination and invites them to role-play. Both are important elements in a child’s development.
Children love to play restaurant by fixing the food, setting up the table, taking orders (even if only to put a √ next to a word they can’t read), and serving the food to the rest of the family. It’s imaginative and straightforward.
Weekend lunchtime is a great time for “restaurant” because sandwiches and salads are easy to make and can be individualized. Before the weekend rolls around, make sure you have all the fixings for a simple sandwich, or vegetables and hummus, or a pizza crust and cut-up toppings set aside.
Add props like a chef’s hat, aprons, or other costumes, a pad of paper and pencil, or specialized bowls and other dishes, it combines dress-up and make-believe—two creative activities that children enjoy.
If you have more than one child, the older child can prepare the sandwiches while the younger child takes the orders. Have the older child write the choices and the little one can put a check mark next to the things each family member chooses. Then throw the order form away and serve the food that has been prepared. They should also serve themselves and sit down to eat.
Cleanup is part of the cooking process. If Montessori emphasizes it, you should, too. Avoid a massive cleanup effort for you so you will want to cook with them again!
When each small task is done, show them how to use the sponge to clean up the counter surface and the table after themselves. If they are finished with a metal bowl, for example, ask them to clean it with soap and water and put it in the dish drainer.
Be sure to review The First Step to get the jump on things to avoid.
Easy Bake Ovens?
We think that Easy Bake Ovens are a great way to get going without using dangerous ovens. Though they are relatively inexpensive to buy and safe to use, some parents won’t want to bother with them. The ingredient packages are nutritionally poor and who said cooking only involves mixing water into powder anyway?
Nevertheless, this may be a necessary step for really little kids, who are precocious enough to want to cook, but just not ready to handle the grownup kitchen. You be the judge. The Easy Bake products always turn out right and you don’t have to admit to your kids that you never make the recipe as is on paper anyway. It’s a kid-size toy, with full kid ownership, which has its merits. Each year there are more things to bake in them and kids nearly always start out wanting to make desserts. Amazon lists them under “Toys and Games” so let this be your cue. When your child is more interested in the real thing than the toy, you know it’s time to move up to the real kitchen.
If you’re brave and patient and your children are a little older, why not just start them out in the real kitchen?
Most children graduate to the real kitchen quickly. But just like the plastic food and kitchen sets that are clearly theirs, the Easy Bake Oven offers more of a sense of ownership for kids.
It’s up to each parent to decide, so we have presented the pros and cons of Easy Bake Ovens on another page—Read about Easy Bake Ovens.
Be ready for the next stage when they tire of the plastic oven by collecting a kids cookbook or two or finding several recipes that they like to eat and are easy to cook. You might even think of re-typing them in a detailed form that kids can follow, like “Get out a middle-size metal bowl” and “measure out the flour and pour it carefully into the bowl.” That’s essentially what kids cookbooks do and kids really relate to them. Here’s a short bibliography of kids cookbooks.