Have you ever tried to let your kids cook with you? If so, you know how stressful it can be.
But at the same time, you probably realize that there are a ton of great reasons to let your kids get involved in meal prep. The trick is to find how to do it without losing your mind.
Benefits of letting kids help with meal prep
There are so many positive outcomes from letting your child help you cook or bake!
NOTE: This post is about adopting the right mindset about letting your kids help you in the kitchen. If you’re looking for meal prep tasks for kids by age (starting as young as 18 months!), check out this post.
Here are just a few of the reasons letting your kids do meal prep with you is such a great idea:
Distract your kids from whining
After all, meal prep gives kids 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!
RELATED: How to give your kids a growth mindset
Broaden your kids’ taste palate
Often, kids are more interested in eating something they made themselves. There are some foods that my daughter usually wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, but once she’s involved in fixing them, she’s interested in trying. Letting kids get involved in meal prep helps them overcome pickiness!
RELATED: 5 ways to help your picky kid eat better
Bonus: If you have the time and space for a garden, kids are even more likely to be interested in a variety of vegetables! This year, my middle daughter is eating raw kale out of our garden. And all of my kids were happy to gobble down this soup (which you can easily make vegetarian or vegan) that had our home-grown kale in it.
Teach your kids life skills
And, of course, one day your kids will have to cook for themselves, and they have to learn somehow. The best way is to start letting them cook with you when they’re young.
If kids start when they’re one and a half or two (yes, really that young!), then by five or six they can actually be helpful in the kitchen instead of just in the way.
Why is letting your kids help in the kitchen so hard?
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.
Most of the reasons we don’t want our kids in the kitchen, if we’re being honest, are related to our control issues. Have you ever changed your mind on letting your kids do food prep because of one of these thoughts?
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.
If so, you’re not alone. Trust me, these are all things that have run through my head when I considered 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. There’s nothing wrong with that.
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).
Preparing yourself mentally to let your kids help in the kitchen
It’s important to be in the right mindset before you let your kids “help” you cook. That way, you can actually enjoy the time you’re spending with them, instead of just stressing about how things aren’t going the way you think they should.
Let’s go through several common concerns related to kids and cooking, one-by-one, and address how to handle them. Remember, it’s not only planning ahead physically, how you choose to think about the situation makes a huge difference too!
They’re gonna make a huge mess
Yep, when kids help in the kitchen, they probably will make a mess. Heck, when I work alone in the kitchen, I make a huge mess.
But 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.”
RELATED: The only three family rules you need
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 own little mantra for my personal use), then cheerfully say, “Well, go get a towel; we clean up our own messes!”
In some ways, allowing kids to make messes is actually great for their development! When children are allowed to make a mess and clean it up, they learn to correct their own mistakes, and they learn that a mess isn’t the end of the world. They’re totally fixable.
Cooking with kids takes way longer than doing it yourself
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.
My kids will just squabble with each other while they’re supposed to be helping me cook
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. I finally 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, I could have taken my own advice on encouraging turn-taking (Take this as a reminder that nobody is a perfect parent!).
RELATED: Teach your kids to take turns
Sometimes I enjoy just cooking alone
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 unmaimed from knives and hot stoves.
Let’s assume you choose to cook without them. Will you actually get the alone time you 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 from a long day.
Once your little cherubs are asleep for the evening, then you can do you. Drink some tea, color, or do whatever you relaxes you.
I can cook better without my kids around
Of course you can cook better than your kids! You have decades more experience on them.
But when you’re worried about your kids “messing up” a dish, ask yourself, will the difference in your end result matter? If you distribute shredded 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?
RELATED: How to give your kids a growth mindset
Keeping your long term goal in mind (confidence, self-reliant kids) will really help you keep perspective on the short-term goal of a “perfect” meal.
Be present and enjoy cooking with your kids
That’s the real secret to cooking with your kids – Don’t be worried about the end result; just enjoy the connection. Plus, you get your own opportunity for character building by learning to calm your inner control freak :).
If you want the more practical advice on which kitchen tasks are appropriate for your kids, here’s the link for that post.
RELATED: How your kids can help with meal prep – tasks by age
But I hope this post helps you work through the mental reservations you may have about your children getting involved with meal prep, which is possibly the hardest part of letting your kids cook with you.
Want more ideas for how to handle your kids in the kitchen?
It takes a lot of patience and mindfulness to let your young kids help in the kitchen without getting stressed out! To help, I’ve created the Mindful Mamas and Connected Kids toolkit! You’ll get eight pages of strategies you can implement immediately, including printable Mama Mantras (to place around the house!), the six step Tantrum Tamer process, and Playful Prompts for Cooperative Kids. Join here to get your toolkit today!