When your kids leave home, you want them to have certain skills—like knowing their way around the kitchen. You want them to know how to cook and how to do the dishes when they live on their own. After all, someday you may have to rely on their cooking and cleaning skills. For this reason, you want them to be involved in the kitchen, and this training starts early and progresses based on your level of comfort and their maturity.
Set up a contained and safe area on the floor or in a swing in your kitchen where the baby can observe you cooking. Let them watch the activity and talk to them while you are working. It’s a great way to build their vocabulary and give them something interesting to look at. Once they can hold something, give them a wooden spoon or a plastic bottle to explore with their mouth.
When a toddler is in the kitchen, you wonder why you ever buy toys. They are entertained by taking all the pots and pans or plastic containers out of the cupboards—often right in the middle of the kitchen. The key is to direct their interest to certain cabinets that they have access to by locking other cabinets you don’t want them to get into, including having child-proof knobs on the stove. But you can also use this to your advantage. Once you remove the sharp items, toddlers can hand you clean items to put away from the dishwasher because they are the perfect height. Have them repeat the names of items, and you can build their vocabulary at the same time. You practice manners by saying “please” and “thank you,” and you help them know that you welcome their help in the kitchen.
This is the age to practice colors, letters, and numbers. Ask them to help plan a rainbow menu by having foods from all the colors of the rainbow. Have them give you clean items from the dishwasher by asking for certain colors or counting how many spoons or forks were in each load. Having them sort items by size or color also develops important skills. This is also the age where a little stool that is easy and safe for them to carry can help them stay involved with what you are doing at the counter. Give them a piece of dough to play with or a sauce to draw like finger paint on wax paper while you cook.
School-age kids are great helpers in the kitchen. They can help with meal prep by washing, chopping, or peeling fruits and vegetables as much as you feel they are ready to do safely. This is also a good age to ask them to share in the daily chores of meal prep, like setting and clearing the table and loading and unloading the dishwasher. Even though they may not do it exactly the way you would do it, take the time to teach them how you want it to be done. It will definitely pay off in the long run.
Middle and high school age
When kids are this age, you are in the final stretch of training. Involve them in the menu planning, and even give them a night of the week to cook the meal when they are ready. Take the time to help them learn how to make their favorite meals and have them cook with you. They should also continue to have responsibilities for chores. At this age, paying them for deeper cleaning chores in the kitchen can also be very motivating for them and helpful for you.
The kitchen is the heart of the home, and getting your kids involved helps bring your family closer together. Get your kids involved in ways that you feel comfortable in the kitchen. There’s no need to go it alone.