Kids in the Kitchen: Reader’s BEST Tips

I wanted to begin the new year with a challenge to bring your kids into the kitchen more in 2014, but the whole thing felt a little…pushy.

The truth is, you already know the short and long term benefits of cooking with kids. We’ve have shared a handful of recipes to begin with and talked about how you can get started immediately.

The groundwork has been laid, but what is helpful now is practical advice from other parents who are actively cooking alongside their children of all ages.

Today, we’ll hear tips for bringing kids in the kitchen from readers who have emailed, commented or interacted on social media. These tidbits are just too useful not to share and I know you’ll relate to these honest parents and their experiences.

Clara's cooking lessonPhoto by Tim Chin

Best tips for cooking with kids from the readers of Simple Bites

“My girls have been in the kitchen with me from day 1. My husband and I both cook with slightly different styles which I think helps the kids to be a bit more well rounded. There is never only one way to do things. ~ Stacie

“The last 3 years of teaching boys to cook in after school clubs has show me how very capable they are. That has been the number one comment from parents too “Wow – I didn’t realize how capable he was”. Letting kids loose in the kitchen is a sight to behold and one that inspires ME as a cook and baker each and every week.” ~ Mardi

“My daughter is two and a half and she loves to help me cook. I used to cringe over her mess, especially since half of the flour mixture would end up outside of the bowl. I have now learned to say, “who cares!” She is slowly getting less messy and we have lots of fun.” ~ Sarah

“Our 2 and a half year old loves to help cook. I let her pour and stir and she’s thrilled. It’s definitely more messy than if I cook alone but less messy than if she’s playing elsewhere while I cook.” ~ Steph

I spend a little time each summer having mom and child cooking lessons – with three it requires planning so each gets some time – when they were small we could share, now it’s best to have it one on one time.” ~ Cheri

“The BEST thing in my house is our Learning Tower which allows my girls to be at the right height to help me in the kitchen!” ~ Julie

KIds in the kitchen making  apple pancakes (noah)

We have a “kids cook” night every Tuesday. The kids are responsible for the planning, shopping, and cooking.” ~ Shaina

“We bought our daughter a set of her own child-safe knives so she can cut fruits and vegetables. By doing this, it has not only improved her love for cooking and helping, but has had the added benefit of expanding her tastes and food she will eat.” ~ Leah

“My son is 9 years old and can now cook complete meals. I’ve been exposing him to cooking since his very early days; like all little kids, he loved so much to touch, taste, smell…I think it’s very educational and it opens up new worlds to kids.” ~ La Torontoise

I prep all the ingredients in advance, especially for baking. It makes things so much easier for little helping hands! This is very convenient for my 3 yr old who wants to help but gets impatient. Things need to move fast!”  ~ Shannon

I always put a damp cloth under the kids’ mixing bowl – it keeps it from shifting around and cuts the spills way down!” ~ Robin

I think preparation is the key. When Timothy was too little to measure but liked putting things in the mixer, I had everything measured out like a tv chef in little bowls.” ~ Christina

boys mixing-1

“Motherhood has such long stretches of “when will this ever pay off?” and we need more of these beacons along the way! My girls are often in the kitchen with me (they both started stirring homemade applesauce at 1 1/2) and I have learned a few sanity savers: really messy cooking (great clouds of flour and sticky fruit) are great for the days when you are planning to clean the kitchen that day ANYWAY. Slower paced days are helpful. And as it turns out, I make almost as big a mess as the munchkins!” ~ Ashley

“My handy clean up tip is to put half sheets under bowls or measuring cups to help minimize the spillage onto the floors.” ~ Emily

“I just bought my 7 year old ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family and Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book for my 4 year old. The love picking out meals for us. Their fave has been chicken stir fry, between gardening at home and school and cooking my kids have really become real food kids.”  ~ Erin

Tasting!!! When my seven year old says “Mama, let’s have a taste, because I helped cooked dinner, I get to sample it!” Yes in the tasting and seeing if it’s just right.” ~ Kamille

“When the kids were younger, I let them loose with non-cooking creativity. They made unique salads and dressings. And that brings me to another aspect of letting kids in the kitchen – creativity and resourcefulness. When my kids want something delicious now I turn it back to to them – what can you make?” ~ Sarah

Mateo cheese-1

“In my experience, kids of any age build confidence by learning to do something that can spark creativity and also things that not anyone can do without practice. Having one or even two signature things they like to make gives them a sense of pride for their hard work. This particularly helps during those difficult teen years too.” ~ Dionne

“One thing I have found helpful for when they want to be with me in the kitchen but can’t really help in what I\’m doing is to let them ”work” at the island with plain flour or a simple flour/water dough. They get to use all the fun kitchen tools and be a part of what is going on, while I can focus on what I need to do.” ~ Lisa

“When cooking with kids I always have to remind myself to relax! It will probably take more time and be more of a mess than if I did it myself but of course it’s not about that! It’s not going to be fun for them if I’m freaking out the whole time.” ~ Nora

“Top tips: re-measure ingredients for pre-schoolers (makes the cooking time quicker, less stressful and allows them to be more hands-on); melt butter when baking (much easier for the kids to stir by hand and makes little taste difference); play “games” with food and give certificates for trying new foods (eg try eating dried apples off string, bite carrots into funny shapes, try picking up raisins and berries with a toothpick – good for motor skills too); make up silly names for food.” ~ Nicole

Put together the basics and let the kids choose the add ins. Example – I made the basic muffin recipe and each kid got a bowl of the batter with their choice to add choc chips, raisins, etc. Same with smoothies. They got to choose their fruit to add in. The younger the kid the shorter the attention span, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.” ~ Derica

Mateo collecting eggsPhoto by Tim Chin

“You know, if I cook all by myself, the kitchen DOES stay neater. BUT, while I am cooking, I have 3 kids making messes all over the rest of the house. If they help me, the mess is only in the kitchen, they really do help me prepare the meal and I make sure they help me clean up after. It really is my favorite way to sneak more quality time in with them while still being productive and teaching them their way around the kitchen at the same time!” ~ Emily

“My oldest is in first grade and as he learns to read is also more interested in reading his own recipes and cooking with me. He has his own cookbooks as well and it’s been a blast going through them together! It definitely does get better, and all of those “exhausting” earlier days are worth it.” ~ Diana

“I had some people over the other day who were amazed that my kids were eating a soup with chard in it. But they helped make it, they helped chop the chard, the helped stir the pot, and they helped flavor check while it cooked. Cooking really changes kids perception of the food. For me, the hardest part has just been letting go of a little control – sometimes I have to pick out egg shells when they crack the eggs, sometimes I hover nervously while Esme chops an onion, but so far, things have always worked out!” ~ Allison

Editor’s Note: You all inspire me so much. You’re patient, caring, creative and ever so smart about teaching your children to cook. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Keep commenting; you’re a valuable part of this community.

Feeling inspired yet? Let’s cook up a storm with our kids in 2014.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. What great tips! Whenever I bake and I look at the aftermath on the countertop, I’m reminded that my six year old really isn’t much messier than I am! Letting her help me in the kitchen also cuts down on mealtime complaining. If she helped to make it, she’s much less like to grumble about it. I also try to enlist her help whenever I’m preparing a meal to take to another family (new baby, illness, etc.) It’s a great way to serve others together.

  2. I’m honored to have one of my tips included on this fabulous list! Thanks so much, Aimee. 🙂

  3. Love it! Thanks for the reminders that they *do* get older, and better, and less exhausting (mine are 21 months and 4.. and love to help).

  4. Love this! I’m with Ashley–in a season of “will this ever pay off?” 🙂 So it’s helpful to see how investing time and effort (and patience with messes!) pays off in other families.

  5. Thanks for including my tip! So many great ideas…especially the damp towel idea. That will be a huge help cutting down on the flour spillage. The hardest thing for me is cooking with two kids at a time. We have been using the time to practice taking turns and counting out loud each person’s allotted time. Baking is such a great way to introduce math skills into practical use.

  6. Thanks for the encouragement! My little guy is 2, and he loves to help as well. I’ll fill a measuring cup and dump some of it out, then let him dump the rest and then tap the bottom of the cup to get the crumbs out. He also gets to help me stir (although I usually have my hand on the spoon as well). There is probably more he could actually do if I’d let him try, so maybe I’ll give it a go and see what happens 🙂

  7. Aimee, one of my have tips was yours, I’m pretty sure — ditch the play dough in favor of getting your kids to handle real dough! That one statement was a lightbulb moment — it changed *everything* about how I felt about kids in “my” kitchen.

  8. Aimee, what a wonderful post! I love your readers’ suggestions, and I think I’m going to go straight out and buy that Learning Tower for my two-year-old helper. She started out in the kitchen in the Ergo baby carrier and now she perches (somewhat precariously) on a chair with her own tiny version of whatever I’m cooking, often with a ghastly amount of spices and salt thrown in, because she LOVES to shake the bottles! I’m looking forward to all our kitchen adventures, and hearing these tips is a great way to start on that path!

  9. My kids are making the transition from “helping” (slicing veggies, measuring, stiring dough) to to actually participating in the planning and creating. Yeah and Yikes!

    We bought a book of kids recipes (“Feed Our Small World”), so my 6 year old can choose recipes he wants to try.

    My other new discovery is “drawing jobs” – My kids both love helping, but they always want to do the same jobs and there’s not always room to share the work. Last week while making pizza, we wrote the tasks on cards and pulled them out of a bowl to see which jobs they would get – roll dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni. So much more plesant than trading turns with the rolling pin!

  10. What a fabulous article Aimée! Thanks for sharing, all these tips are awesome. I have 2 daughters, 10 and 7 who both love to cook. One tip I might add is that I think giving them a sense of ownership helps make it both fun and rewarding…my girls want to do more and more when they feel they are “in charge” (although they are under strict supervision.) Ownership has lead my 10-year old to create her own online cooking show (, which has been tremendously rewarding for her, and teaching others is a great way for her to learn too! Have fun, everyone! 😀

  11. You are all so delightful! I love your experiences and hearts to share your joy of cooking with your children. You will never regret the time you’ve invested in your kids and the heritage you are passing on to them. You make me want to go back and do it all over again!

  12. What a wealth of wonderful tips! I LOVE having my toddler in the kitchen with me. It means fewer food blog posts, (cameras + cooking + toddler = stress, haha) but I just enjoy her company and her enthusiasm so much. I look forward to cooking with all of my kids from the very beginning . . . it’s something I didn’t get to do much of with my mom until I was older.

  13. I can’t remember where I found your blog, but I’m glad I did. I’m always excited to see another fellow Canadian food blogging.
    I agree about kids in the kitchen. I have a 12 year old step daughter and we have been cooking and baking since I met her father when she was 8. It has been a great way to bond with her. She has even surpassed me on a few dishes…;)

  14. Such good encouragement from so many families, loved this, Aimee!

  15. I love all of these tips… I pinned this post to my board for Maddie as she grows up. She loves to hang out with me in the kitchen (and she loves to “saute” her stuffed felt veggies in her little baby fry pan as she says “sssssssss” to sound like actual cooking!), but I really look forward to when she is able to participate more.

  16. La Torontoise says

    Aime, loved this list. Was unaware of the ChopChop book, looks so much fun and I just ordered it. I’m learning so much from your blog.

    Thank you very much for including my tip in the list.
    I’m so happy to connect to other mothers who love cooking with children and learn from their experiences.
    All the best!

  17. I loved reading all of these parents statements 🙂 such a fantastic thing to instill into children!

  18. Great tips. Here are a few tips I have:

    Let your child crack an egg into a separate , empty bowl, in case there are shells to dig out, before dumping into the main mixing bowl.

    Let them wear an apron if they like to dress up to “play the part”.

    Engage in their senses…say things like, “smell this vanilla ext. Mmm…or smell the cinnamon. Do you want to taste this ingredient? What does it taste like?” Have them try flour,sugar,salt,etc,individually. Say, “what does this feel like? This lettuce is soft and delicate. This lettuce has a fun design. There are SO many things to learn about food. Example…berries made up of lots of little beads (technical name is escaping my mind), such as raspberries and blackberries are almost always non-poisonous, if found in nature you can be sure of eating them. There are lots of lessons to teach.

    We like to play music sometimes to set a fun mood.

    If I have all three kids helping me. I set up stations…the stiring station. The cutting veggies station, the mixing station. I usually help with the most difficult task and let them do all the work.

  19. Exactly what a riches associated with superb suggestions! I ENJOY getting our child inside home with me at night. It means less food blog posts, (cameras + cooking + child = tension, haha) nevertheless I just enjoy the woman company in addition to the woman enthusiasm a lot. I count on cooking using every one of our little ones from the beginning… it’s something I didn’t be able to accomplish a lot of using our mama right up until I seemed to be more mature.

  20. My wife wants me to tell you that your kids are extremely cute. 🙂 I must agree..

  21. Thanks for the encouragement! At first i was not looking forward to the mess my child will leave but then i stop and think that this can be a good thing for us to bond over and create memories so who cares about the mess, right?

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