Let’s get cooking!

Letting kids participate in preparing the meal can often make them more excited to eat it. Even if you can’t allow your little one handle a knife yet, she might enjoy measuring ingredients or operating the salad spinner.

As soon as the baby was old enough, I cooked all meals for our family while carrying the baby in a backpack. So: afternoon nap, play time for a bit, then into the backpack to look over Mom’s shoulder — or not — at the action. This was great entertainment and great exposure!

— Catherine D.

My 2 ½-year-old has been “helping” me cook since he could sit on the counter. At first it was just watching and smelling; now he counts the ingredients for me and helps wash veggies. Occasionally, I let him carefully press down on my hand as I chop mushrooms, which is very thrilling for him. I think letting him help makes him more willing to try a bite of whatever we are making, though he still doesn’t like the taste of many vegetables.

— Kelly C.

We’ve found that the more our three children are involved in planning or cooking a meal, the more curious they are about trying the results. The trick is to keep the process fun, so it’s not about making a perfect dish, but about spending time together on a culinary adventure. Here are some fun ideas for involving children in cooking, all of which we’ve enjoyed doing:

  • Cook a theme meal. Explore another country’s cuisine, different holiday traditions, a favorite color, and so on.
  • Explore historic recipes. For example, when my daughters were learning about state history in fourth grade, we cooked a colonial American meal.
  • Plan a meal around a favorite book. Build a salad worthy of Peter Rabbit, or plan a Hogwarts feast. Many great children’s books have culinary spinoffs, such as Brian Jacques’ The Redwall Cookbook. Other books include recipes, such as Patricia Polacco’s Thunder Cake, or Sarah Weeks’ Pie.
  • Set out a “food bar.” Let kids customize their own sandwiches, tacos, baked potatoes, mini-pizzas, spring rolls, crepes, chicken foil packets, “sushi” rolls, pasta toppings, rice bowls or salads.
  • Cook for friends. Plan a potluck dinner for families, where everyone gets to show off a  favorite dish.
  • Feed their curiosity! Next time your hungry child asks what’s for dinner, lead them over to the cutting board and let them “sneak” a bite. Sometimes, all it takes is a little advance marketing!

— Whitney R.

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