Want help getting dinner on the table? The best thing you can do is teach your kids to cook, so we’re sharing recipes kids can make for dinner, as well as tips to set you up for success when teaching your kids to cook.
When I was 14, my mom sat our family down and announced that she wasn’t going to be making dinner every night anymore. She said that she was exhausted by the years and years of being the sole household chef and wanted help. She then proposed that my dad, brother, and I each take a night a week to help to relieve the burden.
I’ll be honest, I was by far the most reluctant participant at the time (ironic, huh?). My self-centered teenage self could only see how this was a hardship on me—when would I get my homework done? What about my extra-curriculars? Within weeks, though, I has learned a large number of skills and it didn’t feel so daunting anymore.
While you may not have reached the point my mom did, I think it is a safe to guess that it would be nice if some other family members prepared dinner every once in a while, so I pulled together a collection of recipes kids (or anyone) can make. In addition, I wanted to share some reasons why you should get your kids cooking (other than the fact that the added help is really nice) and tips to make their experience in the kitchen a positive one so that they will keep coming back.
Why Kids Should Learn to Cook
Over the years I have worked with many adults who never really learned to cook and because of this they find the prospect of preparing meals to be stressful and daunting. By teaching our kids to cook not only can we avoid that sense of insecurity when they become adults, but we can also help them in others ways, including:
Part of our job as parents is to prepare our kids to live on their own as functioning adults, and let’s be honest, along with paying bills on time and keeping a clean(ish) house, there is probably nothing more important than being able to feed yourself (and others).
There are two important ways in which cooking builds confidence: 1) in learning new skills and completing projects, they will gain pride in what they have learned and 2) by showing them how to use a sharp knife, navigate hot things, and follow a recipe, as parents we send the message that we trust our kids’ judgment, an important thing for kids to know as they build their self-confidence.
Building a Positive Relationship with Food
Food should be something we enjoy and connect with, it should be something that brings us together rather than causing stress or worry. By having a hand in preparing our meals we can shift that relationship and feel like we have more control. Furthermore, as kids build confidence by gaining cooking skills, they will also build a more positive relationship with food, which will lead to a happy and healthy relationship with food for a lifetime.
How to Teach Your Kids to Cook
For many parents, the desire to teach their kids is there, but getting started can feel overwhelming. Whether it is the messiness, the lack of control, or the pace of preparation, it can feel like a challenge.
Here are some tips on how to set both yourself and your kids up for success in this process:
Accept the mess and then teach cleaning
There will be mess. Flour will get spilled, liquids will drip, it is part of the process. And while we need to accept that, we can also use it as a teachable moment. When the milk drips on the counter, stay calm and then show them how to wipe it up. When the mixing bowl is empty, show them how to get it soaking, or even better how to load it into the dishwasher. By handling the situation this way, not only will the mess get cleaned (at least partially), but you are also teaching the important lesson of cleaning up after yourself.
Teach and then step back
The best way to learn a skill is to do it. So, when you are teaching a new skill, demonstrate it, but then step back and allow your kids to do it for themselves. This goes for measuring, chopping, and cooking at the stove.
Note: it is important to teach the skills your child is developmentally ready to learn. You know your child best, but for ideas on what activities work for each age group, check out our post on how to involve kids in the cooking.
Let’s be honest, mistakes will happen—ingredients will go in out of order, things will burn, ingredients will get mis-measured. These moments of “failure” will be frustrating for your kids, so instead of criticizing, try your best to stay calm and demonstrate ways to salvage the situation—scrape the burnt parts off, mix for a little longer, recalibrate the mixture.
Often our fears about safety can hold us back from allowing kids to stretch themselves and see what they are really capable of (e.g., using a sharp knife, cooking at the stove, or handling raw meat). Only giving our kids simple tasks can do two things: 1) send the message that we don’t trust their abilities and 2) make cooking boring. So offer your kids guidance, demonstrate good technique, and then step back (allowing yourself to be available for questions or to help if needed). I bet you’ll be happily surprised to discover what your kids can do on their own!
For me, whenever I am starting to get stressed when my kids are in the kitchen, I try to remind myself of the long-term goal: to raise self-sufficient, confident home cooks (who will make me dinner!). With this in mind I do my best to make cooking a fun experience and leave my stress at the door. When needed, I take deep breaths or change the mood by playing fun music.
Take a class
If teaching your kids to cook still feels daunting, consider signing up for the Kids Cook Real Food online cooking school (affiliate). While my kids have been cooking with me for years, all three of us loved all of the lessons we have done—they are engaging, very kid-friendly, and offer a nice structure to the process.
Recipes Kids Can Make
Now that I have laid out for you why it is important to get your kids cooking and shared some tips on how to successfully introduce them to cooking skills, here are some recipes that kids can make for dinner, lunch, or snack time:
Yogurt Parfaits: This is a great option for much younger chefs. It will help them with their scooping and pouring skills, can’t really get messed up, and is a fantastic option for breakfast, snack time, or dessert.
Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip: This is a great dish for a fun family dinner or to serve as a healthy option at a potluck or party. Kids can practice their knife skills (the cucumbers can even be done with a butter knife and the parsley can be hand-ripped, if necessary) and assemble this one all on their own.
Mediterranean Sunset Salad: This salad is a lovely, robust dish that is perfect for dinner, and for practicing knife skills. If your child isn’t ready for a sharp knife, all of the ingredients can also be chopped with a butter knife or by hand (tearing the lettuce instead of chopping it).
Apple and Brie Quesadillas: This is a fantastic option for kids working on their knife skills (if the apples get massacred, it’s ok!), plus quesadillas are always a hit! The only part you might need to help with is the oven.
Egg-in-a-Nesto Pesto Pizza: Any dish with the word pizza in it is likely to get the thumbs up from the kiddos in your house, plus this recipe will allow them to practice their egg cracking skills. Other than helping with the oven, kids should be able to make this meal entirely on their own.
Fiesta Tostadas (Mexican Pizzas): If your kids aren’t ready to use the oven on their own yet, then you can take charge of that piece. The same may also be true for dicing the avocado (check out our library of how-to videos for lots of chopping demonstrations, including how to dice an avocado), but other than that, your kids should be able to prepare and assemble these on their own.
Black Bean Burgers: This is a fun, tactile recipe that your kids will love! They can practice knife skills while mincing the onion (or you can mince the onion in the food processor), mashing the black beans will be a hit, and forming the patties is always fun. This is also a great recipe to practice using the stove and flipping things in a skillet.
Want more activity ideas for your kids in the kitchen or outside? Check out our post on how to keep kids busy during school closures!
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