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How to Teach Kids in the Kitchen

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Encouraging Little Chefs: Teaching Kitchen Skills to Kids

Nurturing Life Skills Through the Messy, Joyful World of Cooking

In the bustling world of family life, the kitchen isn’t just a place to cook meals; it’s a canvas for creating memories and nurturing life skills in our little ones. Engaging kids in the kitchen offers far more than just scrumptious treats; it fosters a bond, teaches responsibility, and lays the foundation for a lifetime of cooking for oneself and others. There are a variety of ways of how to teach kids in the kitchen, today we will cover some of the basic concepts and important foundations.

Respectful Parenting in the Kitchen

cream spilled on wood floor with sopping wet paper towel and smear marks of cream on floor
cream spilled on floor when attempting to make butter

First and foremost we need to set the foundation of our mental state when we have kids in the kitchen. Kids can be messy, are easily distracted, get ahead of themselves and will most likely make many mistakes. You need to understand these things about children, keep them in mind and set your expectations accordingly. Believe me, we have learned this the hard way. When you enter into the kitchen expecting to bond, have listening ears and a kid that does exactly what you say exactly how you tell them, you are setting them and yourself up for not only failure, but a bad experience.

So say goodbye to micromanaging or trying not to make a mess when you are teaching in the kitchen. Believe us, you will scare your kids off if you react to every mess with frustration or irritation or try to meticulously help them do each and every step. We have done this! It is human nature and normal to want things to go well. And we promise, if you do not set realistic expectations upfront, you will most likely get irritated at some point. But fear not, even if you are coming from a place of bad kitchen experiences with your child or a child that no longer wants to help because of the stressful times in their past — there is hope. You can indeed recover and repair past damage by embracing a respectful parenting approach in your kitchen moving forward with your kids.

Respectful parenting isn’t just a philosophy; it’s an approach that empowers kids with life skills. In the kitchen, it’s about offering guidance, supporting exploration, and allowing kids to learn from their experiences—especially from mistakes. Embracing these slip-ups teaches resilience and a positive approach towards challenges, translating into confident and independent young chefs.

What Does Respectful Parenting Look Like When Teaching in the Kitchen?

Respectful parenting, also known as positive or gentle parenting, involves fostering a relationship built on mutual respect, empathy, and understanding between parents and children. It focuses on acknowledging children as individuals with emotions and encourages open communication, guidance, and positive reinforcement. Respectful parenting prioritizes connection, guidance through modeling, and setting appropriate boundaries, emphasizing cooperation over control.

On the other hand, respectful parenting is not about permissiveness or neglecting discipline. It doesn’t involve authoritarianism or enforcing strict rules through punishment or coercion. Instead, it aims to guide children with empathy, setting limits with kindness and patience, and providing constructive feedback to support their development. It avoids shaming, blaming, or exerting power over children, focusing on nurturing their emotional well-being and fostering a nurturing environment for healthy growth.

Examples of Respectful Parenting in the Kitchen

Being able to think critically and problem solve are invaluable life skills. You can teach kids in the kitchen by allowing them to learn to think and react on their own, through hands on experiences and by creating an environment where questions and problems are welcome. Here are some examples of respectful parenting at work:

Encouraging Experimentation

Scenario: Your 5-year-old is excited to help bake cookies but mixes the ingredients haphazardly. Instead of intervening immediately, you calmly watch and allow them to explore. When the cookies don’t turn out as expected, you engage in a conversation, asking open-ended questions about their approach and how they might improve it next time. This approach respects their autonomy while gently guiding them toward understanding the importance of following a recipe.

Embracing Mistakes

Scenario: Your 8-year-old decides to make pancakes but accidentally adds too much salt. Instead of reacting with frustration or correcting them immediately, you taste the batter together and discuss the error. By encouraging their input on how to fix the mistake or acknowledging that it’s okay to make mistakes, you empower them to learn and problem-solve without fear of judgment.

Ownership and Responsibility

Scenario: Your 11-year-old expresses interest in baking a cake for a family gathering. You guide them through the recipe, allowing them to take charge of each step. While you’re there for support, you encourage them to take ownership of the process, from measuring ingredients to making decisions about decorating the cake. This hands-on approach fosters a sense of responsibility and confidence in their abilities.

In each scenario, the parent takes a supportive role, allowing the child to explore, make mistakes, and learn from them. This approach nurtures independence, problem-solving skills, and a positive attitude toward challenges, embodying the essence of respectful parenting in the kitchen.

photo of one child pouring boiling water while other child points to mark on measuring cup while mixing dough
children measuring and mixing masa dough for tortillas

How to Get a Kid Back in the Kitchen After Negative Experiences

If you have a child that is afraid of failure or seems resistant to help in the kitchen because of past experiences, try this: show your child that you too make mistakes, don’t know everything or need help. Show your failures to your child: get shell in your cracked egg, spill something, forget the salt, ask for help deciphering something etc. Most importantly when you call out your mistake or need for help, react in a calm manner. Try laughing at yourself, shrugging it off, explaining how to mend the mistake or live with it — give them an example of how a c’est la vie approach to mistakes looks.

Teach C’est la Vie Approach to Mishaps

C’est la vie in French translates to, “such is life,” and reinforces that life is surprising and does not always go how we want it to go, BUT, we can choose how we respond. It’s acknowledging something happened, reflecting, but saying, now let’s move on and not let bad things stop us from living.

Teaching kids in the kitchen is can instill invaluable life skills – and what greater life skill to learn than one of respect, learning from mishaps and how to view hardships with a c’est la vie attitude.

How to Embrace the Beautiful Chaos of Kids in Kitchen

Admit it, having kids in the kitchen can be a tornado of flour, giggles, and occasional spills. Patience is tested, but amidst the chaos lies the magical growth of confidence, creativity, and shared family experiences. Embracing the mess as part of the learning process can alleviate the stress and open doors to discovery. So as we discuss how to teach kids in the kitchen, by and large preparing for mess before you get started is a must!

Tips for Parents on Managing Mess

  1. Preparation for the Storm: Organize ingredients, set boundaries, and prep cleanup supplies before starting.
    • TEACHING MOMENT: Before you start cooking, explain to your children what you are doing, what can go wrong, and what you will do if something does go wrong.
  2. Mindful Patience: Keep calm, breathe, and remember it’s about the journey, not just the destination. Remember c’est la vie!
    • TEACHING MOMENT: Explain how you reacted to the situation and the different ways you could react and which ways are best or not helpful.
  3. Celebrate Mistakes: Turn mishaps into learning moments, fostering resilience and problem-solving skills.
    • TEACHING MOMENT: Take any mishaps as a chance to rewire – markedly explain what happened and why, and what can be done different next time.

child putting pasta dough through kitchen aid pasta roller attachment
young girl making pasta using a pasta dough rolling tool

Teaching Subject Matter to Kids in the Kitchen

Now that you have your mind and environment in the right place, let’s move on to the hands on teaching. Teaching children in the kitchen is a wonderful opportunity to blend practical skills with fun and engaging activities. By incorporating age-related subjects such as math, reading, science, and art into cooking sessions, you can not only nurture children’s culinary skills but also lay groundwork for a broader understanding of the world around them. Here’s how these subjects can be seamlessly integrated into kitchen experiences and ways to teach kids at different age levels:

How to Engage Preschoolers (Ages 2-5)

  • Math: Counting ingredients, sorting shapes and colors of fruits or vegetables.
  • Reading: Looking at simple recipes with pictures, recognizing labels on ingredients.
  • Planning: Choosing between options for healthy snacks or simple dishes. Understanding mise en place.
  • Science: Exploring changes in food (mixing, melting, freezing), understanding basic measurements. Planting an herb/vegetable garden.
  • Health: Learning about various food groups and their benefits.
  • History: Learn how people made butter and make your own.
  • Logic: Understanding simple cause-and-effect relationships (mixing ingredients to make dough).
  • Dexterity: Pouring, stirring, kneading (with adult supervision).
  • Art: Decorating cookies or cupcakes, arranging fruit or veggies on a plate.

Early Elementary Kids in the Kitchen (Ages 6-8)

  • Math: Measuring ingredients, doubling or halving recipes, simple fractions.
  • Reading: Reading and following recipes independently.
  • Planning: Being in charge of mise en place. Preparing shopping lists and meal plans.
  • Science: Understanding chemical reactions (baking soda and vinegar, gelatin, composting), exploring different cooking techniques. Learning how to utilize the five senses in cooking.
  • Health: Learning about balanced meals, discussing nutritional content.
  • History: Exploring recipes from different cultures, discussing food history.
  • Logic: Experimenting with flavor combinations.
  • Dexterity: Using knives (under supervision), more complex food preparation.
  • Art: Food presentation, decorating baked goods.

Late Elementary to Middle School Kitchen Endeavors (Ages 9-12)

  • Math: Scaling recipes, more complex measurements, metric system, understanding baking ratios.
  • Reading: Exploring cookbooks and following multi-step recipes.
  • Planning: Planning a menu for a party. Meal planning for the week or month, budgeting for groceries.
  • Science: Exploring fermentation, frying foods/maillard reaction, the science of rising dough, gluten development, and food preservation techniques.
  • Health: Understanding food labels, discussing dietary choices.
  • History: Learning about historical recipes and their significance.
  • Logic: Experimenting with recipe modifications. Organization and understanding kitchen layouts and flow.
  • Dexterity: Advanced knife skills, more intricate cooking techniques.
  • Art: Plating and food styling, experimenting with food photography, recipe creation utilizing flavor combinations.

Further Reading for Having Kids in the Kitchen

If you want more information for how to teach kids in the kitchen, then try some of these other posts we have concerning cooking with children :

Age Appropriate Kitchen Tasks for Kids

Give kids confidence and life skills with our age-appropriate kitchen tasks for kids.

Knife Capabilities for Kids in the Kitchen

Teach kids age-appropriate knife skills and learn tips for a secure kitchen experience. Find a list of kid-friendly tools.

Child Kitchen Safety Tips

Discover child kitchen safety tips for cooking with your family. Knowledge & hands on experience is empowering for kids and so you’ll want to know how to enable your kids to cook and explore while staying safe.

Rearing Lifelong Learners Through Confidence and Curiosity

kids overlooking saucepan of candied lemon peel boiling on stove
kids observing lemon peels boiling in syrup in the
process of turning into candied peels

Engaging kids in the kitchen is more than just a culinary experience; it’s about fostering life skills and creating cherished family moments. Cooking not only builds confidence and resilience in our little chefs but also nurtures their curiosity for a lifetime. Remember, it’s not about perfection; it’s about the journey, the lessons learned, and the bond formed through shared experiences. So, gear up, prepare for some mess, and embark on this delightful culinary journey with your little ones! Take a peak at some kid-friendly recipes for some ideas.

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