There are so many positive outcomes from letting your child help you cook or bake! Like we’ve discussed before, it gives them the opportunity to learn through doing, and it just gives them something to do instead of whine about being hungry while you’re trying to cook!
Plus, kids are more interested in eating something they made themselves (helping them overcome pickiness!). And, of course, one day they’ll have to cook for themselves, so they have to learn somehow.
But let’s be real: If you’re like me, you sometimes really don’t want to deal with having them “help” in the kitchen, especially when they’re little. It’s the control issues we have, right?
They’re gonna make a huge mess.
This will take way longer than if I just did it myself.
They’ll just squabble over turns while they’re at the counter.
I’d really just like the chance to do something without them.
I can do it better.
And I’m not saying this in a judgy way. I’m saying this because these are exactly the things that run through my head when I consider letting my kids get involved in cooking.
And certainly, there are days when it just won’t work to let your kids help in the kitchen. But if you can set aside a time or two a week to let them get involved, it will allow them to build self-efficacy and self-confidence, two things they’re going to need their whole lives (and certainly not just in the kitchen).
Why is letting your kids help in the kitchen so hard?
It’s important to be in the right mindset before you let your kids “help” in the kitchen. Let’s go through several concerns one-by-one and address how to handle them.
1. They’re gonna make a huge mess.
Yep, they probably will make a mess. Ask yourself, “If they do make a mess, what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Most likely, it’ll be a little extra work for clean-up.
Is that something you can handle? Yes, yes it is.
And we have a handful of little mantras in our house that I try to instill in my children so they remember them forever. One of them is, “We clean up our own messes.”
So when they spill something, when they accidentally pee in the floor, whatever, I take a moment to remind myself that it’s not an emergency (my little mantra for my personal use), then cheerfully say, “Well, go get a towel; we clean up our own messes!” The kids then get a chance to correct their mistakes, and they learn that a mess isn’t the end of the world.
2. This will take way longer than if I just did it myself.
You’re probably right. Ask yourself, “Do I have extra time right now? What else would I do with that time if I didn’t use it for meal prep supervision?” If the answer is yes, you do have the time, then maybe it’s good to take the time for your kids to cook.
And if the answer is no, that’s okay! Save family involvement with meal prep for another day.
But remember, one day your kids will be big enough to actually be helpful in the kitchen. The sooner you can start fostering that interest in them, the sooner they’ll actually be saving you work instead of adding to it.
3. They’ll just squabble over turns while they’re at the counter.
This may not apply to you if you only have one child, but for the rest of us, it is once again likely true.
Just this morning, I invited my own kids to help me make breakfast, and they almost immediately started whining about who got to stand on the stool, who got to stir first, etc. In my best, most MOTY voice, I barked, “If ya’ll don’t stop arguing about who goes first, ain’t neither of you going to help me!”
Ahem. My Southern comes out a bit more when I’m irritated. They did stop arguing, but yeah, I’m sure there’s a better way to handle it.
Just be mentally prepared for the squabbling. If I had better prepped myself, perhaps I could have taken my own advice on encouraging turn-taking.
4. I’d really just like the chance to do something without them.
This is legit.
If you ever get the opportunity to just “get in the zone” while cooking, it can be such a soothing, enjoyable experience. It’s meditative (just ask Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who just wrote an op-ed on this very idea). But it’s hard to get into a zone while also thinking about keeping small people alive and unmaimed.
Let’s assume you choose to cook without them. Will you actually get the time you really crave, or will you still be playing referee to very small people while also trying to manage boiling pots?
If you don’t think that cooking will be that quiet time you want, why not go ahead and let your kids get involved, while promising yourself that you’ll get back to you later? It might keep them a little better entertained and help all of you reset.
Once your little cherubs are asleep for the evening, you do you, drink some tea or do whatever you relaxes you.
5. I can do it better.
You probably can do it better. But ask yourself, will the difference in your end result matter? If you distribute cheese more evenly over the top of a lasagna, so what? To what degree will this affect the taste of the final product? And will it matter at all in two weeks, when the leftovers are gone and the lasagna has been totally forgotten anyways?
But at the same time, how will letting your kid be involved affect her? How will her feelings about herself and her skills be changed by the fact that she put the cheese on top of the lasagna all by herself and everyone was so pleased by how good it tasted? Will this investment in her matter in two weeks, or even two decades?
Bottom line? Just be present and enjoy your kids.
Wow, so when I first started writing this post, I thought we would be discussing kitchen utensils and stirring and slicing. Instead, we basically had a therapy session! (By the way, here’s the post on practical tips for letting your kids help in the kitchen).
Setting all these thoughts down actually was helpful for me too! Letting your kids help in the kitchen is a great opportunity to practice letting go of control and living in the moment.
I hope this post helps you work through the reservations you may have about your children getting involved with meal prep.
Want more ideas for how to handle your kids in the kitchen?
BONUS: Want help for all those times that you need your kids to cooperate (especially in the kitchen!)? Want to get this to happen while you keep your own good sense of humor? Pick up my FREE prompt sheet for ideas on how to gain your kid’s cooperation HERE!