“Joshua,” I recently called to my eight-year-old, “Let me show you how to peel and chop garlic.”
“Mom, you taught me that when I was six,” he responded.
Crazy as that sounds, he’s probably right. Joshua was born to cook and bake. For as long as I can remember, he’s been next to me in the kitchen helping me prep dinners, pack lunches and bake desserts. When he was younger, I would do the measuring and the chopping. Joshua would act as my assistant. But as he’s gotten older, he has taken charge in the kitchen. He loves nothing more than looking through a cookbook, or the Internet, finding an interesting recipe and testing it out. This past summer that meant finding the perfect ice cream cake recipe. We were all happy to indulge him as he tried out different flavors, mix-ins, and toppings.
My ten-year-old son Jacob also plans and cooks dinner with my help. He recently made this delicious one-pan skillet stuffed bell peppers recipe. Most impressive!
I’m often asked by my envious friends, “how do you get them to cook for you?” So here are some of my tips for nurturing your own mini-chefs:
- Get them in the kitchen as early as possible. In addition to Jacob and Joshua, my three-year-old daughter is an expert at pouring in measured ingredients into a mixing bowl. She helps me turn the mixer on and off. She arranges items on a baking sheet. She adds our ingredients to our salad. Find activities that are safe and age-appropriate.
- Give them some autonomy. Both my boys are responsible for dinner one night per week. This means they need to plan the menu, write out the ingredients I need to buy at the grocery store, prep and cook the meal. My husband and I have no say in what the meal is, so long as it’s balanced.
- Forgive the mess. While Joshua is amazing at planning and cooking or baking, he’s pretty horrible at cleaning. He tries, but the kitchen is not a happy place (nor am I a happy mom), once he’s done with his creations. A thin layer of flour can be found just about everywhere you look. The counters are often sticky with unknown substances. Dishes are piled in and around the sink. I’ve had to teach myself to take deep breaths and use a lot of positive self-talk to convince myself that it will be ok. The kitchen will be clean again.
- Try everything and give feedback. Sometimes Joshua bakes brownies or cookies and I’m pretty sure after taking a bite that something has gone awry. I try to point out what worked really well, and then I mention, somewhat casually, that I taste an awful lot of salt. We will examine the measuring spoons together to try to determine what went wrong. It’s OK to point out negatives; it’s the only way they’ll improve.
- Make cooking and baking seem fun. Children model what they see. If you act like making dinner is a chore, they will view it as a chore. If you make it look fun and exciting, they will be dying to get their chance.
A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on Getborntribe.com.