Happy Thanksgiving! With the biggest meal of the year about to hit our tables and more opportunities for delectables on the holiday horizon, many of us are likely going to be spending more time in the kitchen. I wonder, though, how many are inviting our children to join us?

If you’re like me, having kids in the kitchen doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. These “little helpers” usually mean extra delays and bigger messes. But I’ve had this growing realization lately that my children will not be with me forever, and one of the things I’d like them to know before they leave the nest is how to cook.

I’m not concerned with training any of my children to be a culinary expert. My hope is simply to help them to feel comfortable in the kitchen . . . specifically, more comfortable than I once was. In my teen / early adult years, my younger sister did the majority of the cooking, so I didn’t really bother to learn. At the time I got married, I knew how to bake a bit (cookies, muffins, etc.). But as far as meals, I could make macaroni and cheese, spaghetti (barely), and . . . well . . . sandwiches. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Thankfully, my husband isn’t a picky eater, and I learned quickly. But I’d like my children (especially my girls) not to feel quite so out of their element in the kitchen as I did when I first left home.

As a bonus, teaching your kids to cook can take some of the burden off of you! At least, so I hear. To be honest, I’ve been something of a failure at having my kids help me until just recently. I’ve been trying to let my girls try more things in the kitchen, and I’m doing a “cooking class” once a week with my 10-year-old daughter. I will say I’ve already had a few experiences where my girls did save me more time than they cost me. But overall, I’m writing this post from this perspective of one who is just starting out rather than one who speaks from experience.

For this reason, I called up one of my older sisters to get some input on what she has done with her four teen and pre-teen girls. Although she doesn’t regularly involve them in the day-to-day cooking load, she has allowed them freedom to help and experiment enough that they clearly know their way around the kitchen much better than I did at their age! With our discussion and my recent experience in mind, I’ve written up a few tips I hope to use as I try to do more with my kids in the kitchen.

1. Expect delays.

Plan ahead, allowing extra time for instruction and the slower pace of a less-experienced chef. (For me, this means expecting the cooking project to take about twice as long as it normally would.) Then be patient, helping them where needed, but trying to resist the temptation to take over because it’s taking forever. Teaching kids a new skill requires an investment of time and effort on the front end, but it will pay off in the long run!

2. Lower your standards.

Things are bound not to turn out as pretty or as tasty as if you had made them. Sometimes mistakes are made, and the results are not very tasty at all. In one of my girls’ first baking adventures (making cupcakes), they accidentally put in half a tablespoon of baking soda instead of half a teaspoon. The texture turned out fine, but the taste was rather bitter. But this kind of thing is just part of the process of learning. They remembered that mistake quite well, and they have been diligent not to let it happen again!

3. Teach them to clean up afterwards!

My sister emphasized how important it was to her family to get her children into a home-maintenance routine and teach them how to do each task properly. This is another whole project in itself, of course. But it relates to cooking in that one of the major reasons I often hesitate to allow my kids to experiment in the kitchen is that I don’t want to be left to clean up their mess! If I knew they were capable of properly cleaning up after themselves, I would be much more willing to let them do as they pleased. I definitely need to work on establishing better cleaning habits.

4. Having a meal planning routine can help.

One of the other reasons I often reject my kids’ help is that I haven’t really planned ahead for dinner, so I’m often throwing something together at the last minute. At the very least, I need to plan ahead for the one meal per week that I try to do with my daughter. And if I could get myself back into the habit of meal planning in general, it would likely provide opportunities for my kids to help at other times as well.

5. Let them experiment and pursue their cooking interests.

If they are inspired to try a new recipe, I need to encourage them rather than gritting my teeth at the thought. (Getting steps 1-3 down will probably help with this!) And if you have a child who isn’t particularly interested in cooking, maybe let her page through a kid-friendly cookbook or watch a cooking show with her. I’m pretty sure the latter is what piqued my daughter’s interest.

One thing my sister noted is that she wished she had done a bit more cooking with her girls in middle school. Her older girls, now in high school, don’t have as much time for cooking as they once did, due to a heavier school workload. Meanwhile, I wish I had been better about allowing my kids to “help” in the kitchen when they were little. But with my girls now hitting middle school, perhaps I picked a good season to make up for lost time.

Next up: teaching my girls to bake a pie. Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!


Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of author.