Making dinner is usually more fun when everyone is involved, and kids can easily stir soup, chop veggies or sprinkle spices. Children are more capable in the kitchen than you may think, and if you give them a chance, their enthusiasm for cooking may surprise you!
With new chefs, it’s best to start simple. Tacos, crepes, pasta or soup are good “starter chef” meals, as they provide lots of opportunities for involvement, but aren’t too complicated. Any recipe that lets kids peel, mash, mix or sprinkle is great.
Also, keep in mind that newbie chefs have a tendency to spill ingredients, so things may get messy in the kitchen. But that’s okay! A little flour on the floor is worth involving your kids in dinner preparation. They’ll be proud of themselves for having contributed to the meal, and you’ll be helping them develop cooking skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
For getting family members involved in dinner, try these quick tips:
- Present two dinner options, and have your kids choose between them. To step it up a notch, give them a list of salads, sides and main courses, and ask them to decide the menu.
- Shop together. Whenever possible, ask your kids to join you on a trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market. This gives kids the opportunity to explore different foods, and even talk with the people who made them!
- Try exploring mystery foods. At the store, ask your child to pick a fruit or vegetable he or she has never seen before. Before you leave the store, be sure to find the name of it so you can look it up when you get home and figure out how to prepare it. Taking it home and cooking it will make dinner an adventure!
- Invite your child to help cook, at whatever skill level is appropriate to her. Kids can stir a pot, crumble the cheese, set the timer, measure ingredients, pick leafy green vegetables off their stems (kale, basil), push the button on the blender, crack eggs, or whisk anything. With supervision, older children can chop ingredients.
- Have your kids set the table. In addition to plates and utensils, tell them they can decorate it with candles, flowers or anything else they think might add to the ambiance. Small children might also enjoy making name cards for each person at the table.
- Invite your kid to make a part of the meal. Something quick but dramatic will elicit “oohs and ahhs” from the rest of the family. Popovers or fruit smoothies may do the trick.
- If your child seems interested in cooking, purchase a few products for pint-size chefs, like safety knives and measuring cups. Curiouschef.com has a pretty good selection.
- Play restaurant. Whether they cooked the meal or not, have your kids serve each course as if they were waiters at a fancy restaurant. You might want to lay down a nice table cloth and light some candles to create a fun atmosphere.
- Create a weekly dinner ritual. For example, maybe every Sunday, your kids’ friends are invited to dinner or to dessert. Sundaes, anyone?
- Watch dinner shows together: Cooking shows or competitions on the Food Network can do wonders for getting kids interested in making meals. Try watching an exciting cooking show with your children, and see if it inspires them to join you in the kitchen!
- Conspire to surprise a family member. Everyone likes a bit of intrigue, right? Conspire with your kids to surprise a family member with their favorite food. For example, “Let’s surprise mom with that chicken dish she loves!”
- Ask your teen to choose music for dinner. This will also give you something to talk about.
One way we try to inspire our six and three year-old kids to become more involved in dinner is by letting them make it. I cook at an island in my kitchen, which allows the kids to sit and cook with me. The trick is to find things appropriate for them to do. Have younger children stir ingredients together in a bowl, or sprinkle cheese onto a dish. Older children can help toss salads or chop vegetables.
– John S.