“Mommy, can I help you?” This is not a question I hear very often from my 5-year-old son. When it comes to picking up toys, putting away laundry or pulling weeds, he is noticeably absent. But whenever I’m in the kitchen, Graham inevitably turns up, eager to lend a hand.
Many nights, I’m tired and short on time when prepping dinner, and it’s easy to say, “Not now, Baby.” It’s easy to dismiss him, as if he couldn’t possibly be helpful or make my task lighter. As if the cooking experience wouldn’t be great for him, even if it slows me down a bit.
I try to resist the urge to plow forward and send Graham off to play. When I take a few moments to get him involved in the kitchen, we always have a good time. The mess is extensive, the dinner is late, but that’s pretty typical, even when Graham isn’t involved. :)
Cooking with your kids is a small investment in their future. When they grow up and head off on their own (gasp!), their ability to find their way around the kitchen will be a priceless skill. Kids need to know that dinner doesn’t come out of a box. It doesn’t magically appear out of a drive-thru window. There’s work involved, but that work can be creative, joyful and satisfying. (Not to mention, young people who can cook are ultimately more attractive to classy future spouses.)
Safety is always a concern when cooking with kids, but with a few simple precautions, you can put your mind at ease. Try these strategies:
Get in the habit of cooking on the back burners of your stove. This will keep little hands safe from burns (and may save your shirt from a spaghetti bath).
If your kids are small, find them a stool. Make it easy for them to see what you’re doing waaaaaaay up high on the countertop.
For older kids, teach them how to use kitchen knives safely. (Here’s a good resource.) And of course, never leave your children unsupervised with sharp objects at hand.
Wear shoes in the kitchen, and make your kids do the same. You’ll be grateful for foot protection in the event of a dropped can or knife.
Let your children add ingredients, stir, sprinkle, knead, roll, etc. These activities are fun, tactile and completely harmless.
If your kids are interested in cooking, by all means, encourage them. You may be frustrated by their “in-the-way-ness” from time to time, but as your children grow, you’ll find them increasingly helpful in the kitchen. And at some point, they may be cooking for you! Wouldn’t that be a pleasant turn of events?