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Kids In the Kitchen: How to Not Lose Your Mind Cooking with Littles

My kid used to be a super eater. As a toddler, she ate salmon, almost every kind of veggie and fruit, preferred seaweed snacks to chips and brown rice to mac and cheese. And then we broke her. By the time she turned four, her diet consisted more of chicken nuggets, PB &J's, and macaroni and cheese than anything else.


Even though I tried to "hide" veggies in her pasta, bought organic chicken nuggets, and made her PB&J's on whole grain bread, I was concerned that she wasn't getting the nutrients she needed. Our pediatrician at the time suggested getting her involved in the meal preparation process. This made sense because ever since my daughter was little, she was drawn to imaginative play involving cooking. With this in mind, we headed into kitchen...together.

We started out with the basics. I talked about washing our hands before we cook and being careful around a hot stove. We had a safety lesson about knives (don't worry, she uses a child safe knife to chop!). First thing on the menu was spaghetti and meatballs. Sophie loved mashing up the tomatoes, measuring out spices, and stirring the sauce. She cut up veggies for a salad and ACTUALLY tried it! 

S started out using a plastic knife with a little serrated edge to slice peppers. When she got a little older, we moved on to a child-safe cooking knife made of nylon.

Another easy thing to try with your child is juicing. Sophie loves squeezing oranges and other fruits for fresh juice. I actually got her to try a few new fruits this way. She still won't eat pineapple, oranges, or peaches- but she'll drink them.

S loves to make her own OJ. Pro-tip: Use cara cara or blood oranges and the juice will not only be sweeter and less acidic, it will also be a pretty pink color!

By exposing her to cooking and learning this very important life skill early, I hope to set her up to be able to cook for herself in college and not rely on meal plans and fast food, like I did. She will be able to cook awesome, healthy meals for herself and her family. Who knows, maybe she'll end up a fancy chef one day. 

This was our first Food Stirs box. She made snowflake brownie pops... And they were so yummy!

The recipes have progressed, and now she is my tiny sous chef. She's helped me make everything from chicken and dumplings to zucchini and rice casserole to tacos. We've explored international cuisine like Indian, Thai, and Korean food. And the best part about it isn't even that she tries these new foods, it's that she's having fun. We're making memories together. I like to think she'll remember cooking with me when she's older... and realize I did more than just yell at her to put her shoes on or we'll be late. 

If you want to try cooking with your kids, here are a few tips to help you keep your sanity:

Start with the little things. Little ones can help by washing veggies, juicing oranges, or stirring ingredients together. Increase their responsibilities as they get older.

Have everything ready to go. My daughter really loves to put everything into a pot and stir, so we usually have the ingredients laid out mise en place. It does make a few more dishes to clean, but hey... let the kids do the dishes, too!

Look at cookbooks together. Most of the recipes we've tried came from looking through my cookbooks together. The house rule is that whatever she picked out for us to make, she had to try it. And she's less likely to complain about a meal if she's invested in it.

Get them involved in more than the food. This is a great way to teach them some life skills and basic level adulting. Kids can pick out the plates, set the table, fill water glasses, make a music playlist for ambiance, help with clean up, clear the table, or wash the dishes. 

Try kid-friendly cookbooks or a food subscription box. There are a couple of great kid-centered cooking tools we have found. Subscription boxes like Food Stirs and Raddish are both geared towards kids, fun, and yummy. Mollie Katzen has some awesome kids vegetarian cookbooks that are easy and fun. Books like Bi Bim Bop! have a fun story about adults and kids cooking together and include a kid-friendly recipe to try. 

Have fun, praise them, and remember mistakes will be made. The first time my daughter cracked an egg by herself it was a disaster. She got raw egg everywhere. It was a salmonella crime scene. But she was beaming with pride. So rather than run for the Clorox wipes right away, I took a deep breath and said, "Great job! You did it!" She can now successfully crack the egg in the bowl, and there are still a few shell fragments in there, but it's getting better every time. It's a process, be patient. Eventually, they will get it.




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