I adore getting the children involved with cooking – it’s one of my favourite activities to do as a family. But let’s be honest…
Yup, cooking with kids can be pretty stressful – but it doesn’t have to be! Here are my top tips for stress-free cooking with kids.
Top tips for stress-free cooking with kids
Weigh everything out before you start
If your kids are super impatient when it comes to cooking, I’d recommend you get all the right quantities ready in bowls before you call the kids over to get started. Why? Because then they can skip straight to the tipping, sieving and mixing.
Of course, if they’re in the mood to help with measuring, that’s fantastic as it’s a great way to practice basic number skills, which can be really good fun and hold their interest. I play it by ear and decide which approach to take depending on their mood.
Set up the children’s work station well away from the hob, oven and so on. With fewer hazards for you to keep an eye on, it’ll be safer for them and far less stressful for you.
Take turns, reduce squabbles
When kids get overexcited, they can forget to play nicely and that can mean everyone fighting over the spoon. That’s more stress you don’t need. I find it helps to stick pretty rigidly to one turn each in rotation as it keeps things simpler and reduces the chances of arguments.
Choose recipes with lots of hands on activity
Kids want to get stuck in, so avoid recipes with lots of hob steps or steps requiring too much adult intervention. Kneading bread, stirring batter – anything that they can get really hands on with is generally more fun than making them stand back while you blow torch creme brûlée.
Cooking with kids is always going to take longer than cooking alone, so it makes sense to pick relaxed times such as weekends to cook together as a family. And never cook with hungry young children – they’re far less likely to get grumpy if they cook with full bellies. Cook for fun, not because you need to get dinner on the table asap – some savoury muffins to enjoy during the week ahead could be a great start.
That said, once they’re comfortable in the kitchen and familiar with a few simple tasks like scrubbing veg, pouring ingredients or stirring mixes, it’s brilliant to get them involved in dinner prep as it can present another chance to grab some quality time together.
Support good hygiene
Watching little fingers move from the mixing bowl, to halfway up their noses and back to the mixing bowl does not make for an enjoyable experience. Who wants a snot cupcake?
Cooking together is a good chance to talk about hygiene, so make hand-washing the beginning of the family cooking routine and use that time to discuss why you’re washing away the germs, and why it’s important to keep hands germ free while cooking.
Use lots of praise
Even when things go wrong, focus on praising the effort they’re making, not just the end result.
For me, when I’m cooking with my kids, I’m looking to foster their love of cooking, so I aim for praise such as, “You’re concentrating really well”, “That was great chopping”, “You really listened to your brother”.
This – along with a laid back attitude and plenty of giggles – helps avoid a toddler meltdown if it all goes a bit awry.
Accept that there will be mess. Lots of mess
Pick a space you don’t mind getting messy and accept that you’ll need to spend some time cleaning up afterwards. While I’m not suggesting you encourage your kids to face-plant the cake batter, cooking with kids is no fun for anyone if it’s peppered with “put that down!” and “careful, you’re making a mess!” so set up well away from that cream sofa, put on some aprons, put some paper down on the floor around the table, take a deep breath and have fun!
Sometimes, the kids help me clean up and sometimes it’s actually nice to send them off to play while I get some quiet time to tidy round in peace after all that excitement. Follow what works for you and remember: it’s about having fun!