Let your (school-aged) kids loose in the kitchen and eat the benefits

Kids can cook on simplebites.net
Ever since Noah caught onto reading, he’s showed a renewed interest for cooking like a match to flame. Often I’ll find him ensconced in the sofa, a cookbook opened on his lap and a thoughtful expression on his face.

What is ‘polenta’, Mom? Do we have everything for this? Can I make breakfast tomorrow?

He’s bookmarked about 20 recipes in the Weelicious cookbook, and his interest in The Complete Book of Knife Skills has his grandmother concerned, but I take it as a further sign of my seven-year-old’s piqued curiosity for food and cooking.

For years, I’ve been an advocate of getting kids in the kitchen, insisting that teaching kids about food can begin in the grocery store or the garden, but the real magic happens alongside you, in the kitchen.

Now, this whole recipe-reading, second-grader competence is new to me. And I like it. It seems I’m really starting to reap the benefits of starting the boys young, and they are well on their way to a long life of cooking from scratch.

 Kids in the Kitchen on simplebites.net

Spring Break in the Kitchen

You’d think that the first day of spring break would include hours of Lego play strung together, interrupted by an occasional afternoon of sledding, but no, Noah had other plans.  He begged to get into the kitchen, to create, to be together.

So we perused some cookbooks and recipes (menu planning skill development), double-checked to see if we had everything on hand (stocked pantry awareness), and he went to bed excited for morning to arrive.

I slept a little later than usual that day and by the time I made it downstairs, two tousle-headed, pyjama-clad boys had the table set and pancakes under way. Noah was hunched over his recipe, enunciating every syllable:

Mom! I’m never going to do this – ‘Drop. the. egg. on-to. the-floor.’.”

I glanced over his shoulder at the recipe, “Flour, Noah. The flour, not floor.” His exclusively French-language education sometimes trips him up when reading English. But he does okay, and my floors were spared an early morning egg wash at least.

Danny handed me a coffee and as I sat down to a breakfast made for me by my 5 and 7 year-old, I though about the earlier days of cooking with them. The messes. The questions. How I had to draw a long, deep breath when they pushed that stool up to the counter next to me.

But that morning, with about six years of combined experience between them, and from the way my breakfast tasted, I guessed I had a lot to look forward to that day.

Turns out, I was right. Here’s what they served for dinner.

kids can cook on simplebites.net

Let your (school-aged) kids loose in the kitchen and eat the benefits

While Clara napped in the morning, the boys mixed up focaccia side by side, following a recipe from ‘The Silver Spoon for Children’.  I took a few photos and fielded questions about yeast, warm water, and the activation process – our science lesson for the day.

We worked the dough by hand, as I have a strict ‘no appliances’ rule for the kids. It’s not just for safety reasons, I want them to know how to cook without relying on gadgets or power tools. We whip cream by hand, knead dough with our muscles, and shred cheese with a box grater. It’s much more fun this way.

kids in the kitchen on simplebites.net

Later, when the baby took her afternoon siesta, Noah made a tomato sauce, while Mateo shredded lettuce and peeled carrots for a salad. They set the table again. We sampled the focaccia; they nodded their approval.

Ten minutes before our usual dinner hour, Noah carefully added spaghetti to a pot of boiling water. Under my supervision, of course. The steam from the pot swirled high as our conversation drifted from cooking to school and back to food again. I drained the pasta. He grated the Parmesan cheese.

Kids in the Kitchen on simplebites.net

As Clara crawled across the floor to greet Danny home from work, Noah sauced the pasta and Mateo garnished it liberally with cheese. We sat down to a meal made entirely by their small hands – the first, but certainly not the last.

Kids in the Kitchen on simplebites.net

Let your (school-aged) kids loose in the kitchen and watch them learn

Other than the obvious benefit of having dinner made for you, warm focaccia and all, there are plenty of good reasons to encourage your school-aged children loose in the kitchen. Here are a few:

  • Learn to identify ingredients. Garlic, onion, or shallots – which is the correct pick for the pasta sauce?
  • Multiplication. They want more cookies? They have to do the math.
  • Reading. Every recipe made begins with a full read through the ingredient list and instructions. That’s mandatory in my kitchen- for all ages.
  • Creativity. Want to dress up that pizza or sandwich with something wild? Why not?
  • Substitution. Oregano for basil, dried herbs for fresh. We learned that while making the pasta sauce. It’s just the beginning.
  • Competence, thus, Confidence. 

And really, the list could go on. Connecting with the land. Science. Respect for farmers and producers. Respect for mama, who cooks daily.

And I have good news: the mess is less. It gets better.

Kids in the Kitchen on simplebites.net

For a list of recipes (and more tips) to make with your children, be sure to bookmark this post from the archives: Easy Recipes that Kids Can Cook.

For recipes, we like to cook from the following:

Really Easy Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce
5.0 from 6 reviews
Print
Cuisine: Dinner
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 4
Adapted from The Silver Spoon for Children, this simple recipe is worded so kids can easily understand it. Parental guidance is still required. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
Ingredients
  • 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 14 ounces dried spaghetti
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (for water)
Instructions
  1. Put the canned tomatoes into a pan and add the sugar, oregano and olive oil.
  2. Squash the garlic with a rolling pin and peel off the skin. Add garlic to the tomatoes.
  3. Bring the tomatoes up to a gentle simmer; the sauce will bubble slightly. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir the sauce once in a while.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon salt.
  5. Ask an adult to help you cook and drain the spaghetti.
  6. Pour the sauce over the drained spaghetti and top with Parmesan cheese if you like. Serve your pasta right away.

 

Is it hard for you to welcome your kids into the kitchen? Do they like to help?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. “How I had to draw a long, deep breath when they pushed that stool up to the counter next to me.”–oh yes, this is currently how I feel when my 4-year-old screeches his stool across the floor to help me. I’m glad to know it does get better. The theory behind your no-appliances rule is so great, and I loved the concentration on your son’s face as he pours on the pasta sauce. What a thrilling and proud moment it must have been for all of you to sit down to a meal they cooked by themselves!
    Wendy’s last post: yarn along ~ february 27

    • Wendy, we were SO proud. As were they.
      Chances are they won’t have half the small appliances I have when they move out and put together their own kitchen, so I’m teaching them the importance of a whisk, a knife, and a wooden spoon.
      Keep cooking with your little one. It gets better.

      • I agree it’s easier to spread out the kitchen tasks letting them do everything by hand, but I’m finding out that once kids feel pretty confident in the kitchen those “power tools” like mixers and grinders lure them to help even more eagerly. It’s also really important to get kids helping out as young as possible, so I’m even letting my 15 month old take part. In fact, I read that research shows if we don’t let kids help in those early years when they’re eager to do what we’re doing, it’s a lot harder to get them to help later. Here’s the study, along with some other great tips: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2013/02/06/a-childs-place-is-in-the-kitchen/

  2. I could not agree more! The last 3 years of teaching boys to cook in after school clubs has show me how very capable they are. That has been the number one comment from parents whose boys are involved in my clubs too “Wow – I didn’t realise how capable he was”. Letting kids loose in the kitchen is a signt to behold and one that inspired ME as a cook and baker each and every week.
    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite’s last post: French Fridays with Dorie: Cheesy crème brûlée

  3. I always had a hard time letting my kids help me in the kitchen. I like being in control and I don’t like extra messes. Yet, after constant begging I would let them help with cookies or stir the pancake mix. Now it is such a blessing when my 8 year old comes in and offers to make us pancakes or eggs for breakfast. She barely needs any help, so I am free to work on other things. I also love that she is learning practical things already that she will use later on in life . She’s learning to serve and enjoys it!
    Paula’s last post: I’m Tired of the Mommy Battles

    • Paula, I hear you. I want to be in control in the kitchen too; it’s actually been good for me to relax little and not mind the mess so much.
      Sounds like your 8-yo is doing amazing!

  4. My kids absolutely LOVE helping in the kitchen. Although, they are 4 and 2, so they aren’t doing nearly as much as your kids, they are still enjoying being involved. They love to add all the different ingredients to the mixing bowl and stir stir stir. And when they have input and “help” me with the meal making, they are always more apt to eat what we have.
    Heather’s last post: what i am eating

  5. Oh Aimee! This was such an encouraging post! Motherhood has such long stretches of “when will this ever pay off?” and we need more of these beacons along the way! My girls are often in the kitchen with me (they both started stirring homemade applesauce at 1 1/2) and I have learned a few sanity savers:
    - really messy cooking (great clouds of flour and sticky fruit) are great for the days when you are planning to clean the kitchen that day ANYWAY
    - slower paced days are helpful
    - and as it turns out, I make almost as big a mess as the munchkins!

    • Good point about slower days. We’ve been on spring break, so kitchen time has just been one of those things slotted in as an activity. It works out well when I’m more relaxed!

  6. My kids are not quite at the level of yours, but I have always let them help in the kitchen. My 8 yr old can make pancakes and he made his second batch of cookies all by himself (he got upset when his 3 yr old sister pulled the chair up to his baking and insisted on measuring out the flour, but he did eventually let her help). I will have to check out one of those cookbooks to encourage more cooking, I think.
    jill’s last post: Three Days Down, Six to Go . . .

  7. This is fantastic! I think they need to have their own monthly “kids in the kitchen” column here with recipes for other kids to reference. :)

  8. I loved this post very much. I agree with the long deep breath when the chair gets pulled up. I love it most of the time when my daughter (almost 4 years old) helps me in the kitchen but sometimes I do just want to do the work and not have to talk about each step and keep an eye out for little hands making a mess or getting hurt. My daughter loves it and often tells me how much fun it is to cook or bake with me. She learned to crack open an egg a few months ago and she was so proud of herself for doing it and continues to practice whenever the opportunity arises.

  9. I just loved reading this. My kids are younger (age 4 and 2) and are already in love with helping in the kitchen. I’m glad to know the messes will get better. ;)
    Emily @Random Recycling’s last post: 5 Green Non-Stick Pans to Love

  10. What an incredibly gratifying Mama moment. Those handsome gentlemen of yours are going to grow up with a skill that most kids of even OUR generation don’t have. You’ve given them a true leg up on being grown ups, Aimee. You should be very proud of the work you and Danny have done there.
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies’s last post: Quick Buttermilk Biscuits

  11. What a fantastic dinner! The boys must have been so proud. At what age did you start cooking with them?
    Tragic Sandwich’s last post: What’s In a Meme?

  12. They are too cute for words! I can’t wait until Caleb can start cooking with us. Right now, he just plays with whisks and spatulas while we cook:)
    Maria’s last post: Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Bites

  13. The kitchen is a great way to pend some quality family time!
    Kevin @ Closet Cooking’s last post: Cuban Sandwich

  14. They did an amazing job! My kids love to make breakfast for dinner. :)
    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective’s last post: Irish Apple Beer Bread

  15. LOVE this, Aimee. I started cooking meals at age 8, not because I was taught early but because my mother hated cooking. This is a good reminder to turn over control of the kitchen a little more!
    Colleen’s last post: A is for Apple Sundaes

  16. I love this post Aimee!! I am a HUGE advocate of kids in the kicthen at an early age. My kids who are now 11 and 8 are confident making & baking and it gives me (and them) great pleasure and wonderful memories! My 8 yr old daughter simply won’t allow things to be cooked w/out her involvment lol! Saturday, she arraanged a cook-off with a cousin. If nothing else, we are teaching our kids a necessary as well as fun life skill!

  17. Aimee, this was a wonderful post – I loved seeing your little chefs. I wish I had let go of my kids a little sooner – but I’m happy to report, my daughter happily cooks bkfast and dinner on occasion (although she’s 16 – a little late!)
    When they were younger, I let them loose with non-cooking creativity. They made unique salads and dressings. And that brings me to another aspect of letting kids in the kitchen – creativity and resourcefulness. When my kids want something delicious now I turn it back to to them – what can you make?
    Sarah’s last post: Snowshoe And Enjoy The Deep Snow!

  18. Such a beautiful story Aimee! I saw some of the preview photos on instagram so I’m glad to have caught the full story. Your boys made a delicious looking meal. I don’t have kids yet, but have great memories of cooking with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen so I will continue that tradition with my own kids no question.
    Kaitlin Jenkins’s last post: Pin it Up (again)

  19. This is GREAT Aimee, kids LOVE to experience cooking for themselves.

  20. I really love this idea. I have been thinking a lot about when I have kids (haha not any time soon) but I do know one thing is for sure – I’m going to have them in the kitchen with me and i’m going to let them be as creative as they want!! I love the story you shared through your photos. So fun :)
    Julie @ Table for Two’s last post: Pork Carnitas

  21. Amanda B. says:

    Thank you for this post – it was so touching and what I hope will happen in our house years from now. My boys are currently 1 and 4 and so far I have gotten the 4 year old to be excited about cooking. Need to definitely work on my patience in the kitchen so his curiosity and love keeps growing. Think I need to find some of those cookbooks you mentioned too!

  22. The drop the egg on the floor part was my favorite! hehe
    stephchows’s last post: Canadian Moose Sighting

  23. It is so great. I do this all the time with my 5 and 3 years old girls. They always want to help and I ALWAYS let them, even when it is a little aggravating! Because it is so important that they learn how to cook, and I always think it is good for their math skills (measuring) and motor skills. Plus I love to have them in there with me for bonding time :)

  24. My mom never specifically wanted me to help in the kitchen, but after years of watching her do what she did, I picked up quite a bit. I still remember the swell of pride I felt that first time I made dinner for her and my dad. Now I cook for my own family and I enjoy every minute of it. Thanks for the inspiring article.

  25. It looks like the kids had fun! My son loves to cook and he is only 3.
    Tanya’s last post: The Best WordPress Anti-Spam Plugins for 2012-2013

  26. I just wrote a post about this a few days ago! It seems like so much extra work and mess in the beginning but the payoff is so gratifying!

    http://myorangerie.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/boy-making-breakfast/

  27. Aimee,
    This was beautiful. I love the focused look on your boy’s face as he pours the sauce on the pasta. Terrific lighting. =)
    As a mom to two little girls, this kind of sibling-hood and love for cooking is what I want to instill in them. Sometimes it seems like an uphill battle of mess and cracked eggs (they’re only 3 and 19 months) but this is so good to read. Thank-you!
    Breanne’s last post: 9/52

  28. I adore this post! Those fantastic boys of yours – and that meal! Yes, let’s let our kids in the kitchen and let them know that you don’t have to rely on gadgets – yes yes! Our Spring Break starts this afternoon and I can’t wait to log some kitchen time with my girls. Thanks for the inspiration, as usual, Aimee!
    Allison’s last post: Ada’s Book Picks: Good Books for 3 to 6 Year Olds

  29. So cute. We have a “kids cook” night every Tuesday. The kids are responsible for the planning, shopping, and cooking. I hope to share a few as the light gets later so I can document them. The boys did such a wonderful job on dinner, Aimee!
    Shaina’s last post: A Menu for Eating Well and Spending Less

  30. Very inspiring! As well as impressive at what they can do! I can’t wait to have kids with me in the kitchen one day.
    Danielle’s last post: Blueberry Buckwheat Porridge

  31. Aimee, this was way too much fun. Oh that long breath when they push a chair into the kitchen happens in my home all the time, but I’m there with you. My oldest is in first grade and as he learns to read is also more interested in reading his own recipes and cooking with me. He has his own cookbooks as well and it’s been a blast going through them together! It definitely does get better, and all of those “exhausting” earlier days are worth it :D
    Diana@Spain in Iowa’s last post: Gardening with Children – A Great Way to Teach Your Children to Love Their Vegetables

  32. Melanie says:

    So Awesome!!! I love seeing kids cooking! That was me as a kid and I love getting Owen involved. He really loves it too! Thanks for sharing this.

  33. Oh so cute! (“Mom!, I’m never going to do this. Drop. the. ….”). Aimee, your boys are amazing – obviously a wonderful testament to the way you’re bringing them up!
    Marian (Sweetopia)’s last post: Easter Decorated Cookies

  34. Aimee this is fantastic! Unfortunately we are not parents but I am always telling friends, siblings, etc… to let their kids into the kitchen! I have always let our nieces, nephew and god-daughter help us out. I use to nanny and I let them jump in as well. They always end up appreciating the special time and they are so proud when they make a wonderful dish. Not to mention, if you get them cooking, then they are more likely to eat healthier later on. Brilliant post!!!
    Denise’s last post: Ditalini with Chickpeas, Kale and Garlic-Rosemary Oil

  35. This is AWESOME! Great photos too :) I have to remind myself sometimes to let the kids have fun in the kitchen too. My girl is 4 and my little boy is 15 month old. The boy wants to be with me in the baby carrier ALL.THE.TIME while I do anything in the kitchen. He will cover the pot for me, he places all the diced veggies in a pan, he watches every move. He is always in the kitchen and I have a feeling we may have a budding chef on our hands :)
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz’s last post: The New STOKKE Scoot Stroller Giveaway Event

  36. Aimee,
    Agreed, on all accounts. The mess gets less and the pride my kids feel when we eat something they created is so worth it. My son started out with a dinner (PW’s Beef and Sour Cream Noodle bake) and after making it a couple of times he said “you know, this would be better with . . . ” and started branching out, amping up the flavor with spices. I love it!
    Thanks for a great post–and I love that you were able to sit back with your camera and take wonderful photos of your boys in action.
    Kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts’s last post: Turkey Pesto Spinach Pizza (Pizza Night!)

  37. I love your approach to getting kids in the kitchen! It makes total sense. I can’t wait to have kids just so they can cook with me and understand what they are feeding themselves!!

    And… those boys are going to be hot tickets when they start dating! Every girl wants a guy who can cook!
    Gaby’s last post: Absolutely Avocados Cookbook Trailer

  38. Annie Ferrante says:

    Thank you so much for this post! My kids love to help me cook and I’m always a little leery. I think I’ll get my son one of your recommended cookbooks for his 7th birthday!! My mother always thought he’d be a chef!!
    By the way, I love all of your posts inspiring me to cook more from scratch!

  39. I also try to use the time spend with my children as effectively as possible and having fun in the kitchen is one of our favorite activities. They can relax and learn something new which is always better than watching TV or playing PC games. And if we have more time we love walking along the beaches here in Vancouver and visiting some of the spots our children simply love such as parks, gardens or museums. But no matter what you do the most important thing is to enjoy the moments you spend together as much as you can.

  40. My boy (6, almost 7, years old) was a bit fragile (emotionally) this morning on the way to school and I’ve been wracking my brain for something special to do with him this week that would be just for him and I. This article is exactlywhat I needed for inspiration and I’m going to make pasta with him later this week. I can’t wait.
    Jennifer Luiz’s last post: Of History, Homework and Ham

  41. Madeline currently shows a lot more interest in cooking than Logan, which is a bit more challenging because her 5 year old reading skills are really not good enough to get by in the kitchen. She does pretty well when I tell her what ingredient and how much to measure. In the past couple of weeks she has prepared pumpkin oatmeal and the batter for buttermilk pancakes with me telling her what to do next and how much of what. She was pretty proud. We are finally getting to the stage where the mess is less. Thank goodness. Though there is still the occasional ‘flip the kitchen aid on to full power instead of low’ mess that coats the kitchen.
    Katie | GoodLife Eats’s last post: Warm Arugula Salad with Quinoa and Goat Cheese

  42. Love these tips! I too have two boys that love to “help” in the kitchen. I often have to get myself geared up to have them help with dinner, as it often takes twice as long and the clean up… don’t get me started :) Good to know it gets better!

  43. Marie Andrée says:

    I have 4 children ages 12, 21, 23, 25. They all started cooking at a very early age, boy or girl, and are very good at it. The best way I found to minimize tge mess is to make them clean it up, no matter how old they are. Of course the younger they are the more helpful I was, but they had to clean it up. They quickly start paying more attention.
    When my oldest went to share an appartment with his buddies, he was the only one who could cook. They quickly stopped buying premade food and handed David grocery money to shop and cook for them so he was eating for free in exchange for his cooking skills and his buddies were spending less in grocery. Now he impresses his girlfriend with fancy recipes!

  44. I love that you are teaching them these valuable life skills so early! Keep up the great work! :-)
    Tracy’s last post: Teacup Cupcakes

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