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Kids in Kitchens: Lets share stories/strategies.

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

What kind of freedom do your kids have in the kitchen? My two big concerns are safety and mess.  I can tolerate a certain level of mess without batting an eye but flour -- kneading mess -- gets to me, because a trail of flour is likely to follow them wherever they go after wards.


My oldest (soon to be 7) now makes his own peanut butter sandwiches.  He wants to cut his apples and slices his own cheese.  As of this week, I am reluctantly (knives!!!) letting him take over part of the snack prep for his sister and himself. 


The next level will be actual cooking. Both kids love mixing pancake batter, for example, but now the oldest wants to make the pancakes himself.  He also wants to make his own eggs.  I let him do that with supervision.  He of course wants to do it without!  I don't blame him; no one likes to be hovered on in the kitchen! 


I am ceding when I think they are ready but the idea of them thinking they can handle the stove on their own kind of scares me.  It is a gas stove and it can easily be left on.    


Anyone out there whose kids enjoy working in the kitchen? Share stories/strategies/worries?  Total kid proof recipes welcome too! 

post #2 of 13

My older kids like to cook, and have been cooking since they were 6 or 7.


I think pancakes are an ideal first thing to cook on the stove.


My rules:

until about age 10, I need to be asked before they cook anything that involves the stove. I check that they've turned it off when they're done (heck, I do that for my husband and me too!)


For cutting, I let my kids start using sharp knives as soon as they have the self-control to follow basic knife safety precautions: I require that they only cut stable things on a cutting board, with the appropriate sized knife. We also talk about how sometimes a knife can suddenly cut much faster, and so you always need to think about where the blade would go, and make sure there's nothing important there (like a finger). 


Clean-up is part of the job. If they track flour across the house, I'd give them my little hand held vac and let them vacuum it up. Next time they'll pay more attention to whether or not they're tracking, KWIM? And if they don't they can clean it all up again. I don't yell at them about the mess they make--learning to cook is hard enough, learning how to be neat about it will come later. 


Things I don't let them do:


Blend soup with our immersion blender. If you angle it wrong, there is ballistically hot liquid sprayed everywhere, it's just not safe. 


Drain pasta-- my 12 year old could probably pick up my big pasta pot, but I'm not sure she'd have good control of it. 


Bone chicken-- they don't want to do it, but it seems like a job where it would be easy to accidentally cut one's self.  


Alton Brown has a Good Eats episode that's all about teaching kids to cook within safe parameters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkwIoG4oJD0


Good luck!

post #3 of 13

My girls like helping occasionally, but they don't seem to want to get in there by themselves.  So, I haven't needed to figure this out yet.


I'll definitely be following this thread, though, and drinking some virtual coffee meanwhile, because there's none in the house:



post #4 of 13
My boys (2, 4 & 6) love to cook and they help out with every meal. The 6 & 4 year old make their own sandwhiches and snacks. We introduced spoons, forks and knives with solids. I still think it's so cute to see my toddler cutting up his food!!

We started with DS1 around the age of 2 because he was a very picky eater and was much more willing to eat if he had prepared it himself.

I never had an interest in anything kitchen related as a kid (even now, I am so grateful my husband loves to cook and bake- I like doing the clean up!)...I remember not be allowed to help with meals or if I did I would get yelled at for doing it wrong.
post #5 of 13
Ah, hit send too soon and can't edit for some reason.

My oldest son tells us how he will teach his kids to cook one day. It's so sweet to hear! Our boys are also foodies smile.gif They also like creating new meals and expirimenting with ingredients and spices.
post #6 of 13

My boys started using knives in their Kindergarten, where they chop fruits and veggies on a daily basis.  At first this kind of freaked me out, but when I visited the class and  saw my oldest chopping and slicing so carefully, completely absorbed in his work, I really had to give kuddos to his teacher.  I would have never thought to teach them to use knives so young, but obviously if you teach them right they are more than ready to step up to the task.  My son (age 6) has been regularly chopping and slicing at school and at home for 2 years now.  


In fact, just this weekend he got up before everyone else and sliced apples, chopped up carrots, peeled easter eggs, and prepared yogurt with honey and blueberries and set everything out on the table in anticipation for a party we were having later in the day huh.gif  I was pretty horrified when I stumbled upon that scene upon getting out of bed!  But then I was just so, so, so thankful that he had been taught so well.  He did a magnificent job!  But we had to get serious and give him the no using knives without mom, dad, or teacher talk.  


One good thing their teacher was adamant about at school was absolutely NO TALKING while they were using a knife.  She demanded their complete attention on focus be on their task, for safety reasons.  I thought this was a really good rule and so have implemented it at home too.


I should add that my 5yo son has a much harder time with the knife, more than my older son did at that age.  He tries really hard, but he lacks the hand and finger strength necessary to keep the knife steady and do the job safely.  I still let him practice all the time, but I am RIGHT THERE next to him, gently correcting things when i see a finger in danger or an accident waiting to happen.  


My sons are also expert bread kneaders from all the bread they have baked in school.  My 6yo even schools me!  "Knead and push mama, like this!" lol.  


My 13yo daughter has been using the stove for a couple years for 'easy' stuff- canned soup, mac and cheese, etc.  She does really well.  I just recently started giving her boxed baking stuff like brownies and muffins to make on her own-  We typically do not eat pre-prepared stuff like that, but a recipe from scratch would be too overwhelming for her at this point.  I think the simplicity of a box of brownies or muffins is a good introduction for measuring and stuff with no supervision.  Hard to mess those up!  Most kids could probably start this much earlier, but my daughter has never really been interested in baking or cooking so we never really did it together.  Right now it's more about independence for her (I want to eat this, so I should just make it myself) rather than having fun in the kitchen.


I almost always allow my kids to help me in the kitchen when I am making meals.  It has been good in the way of teaching them kitchen safety (no playing or roughhousing when water is boiling, etc), and they (my boys) just love being in there.  Next year when we are homeschooling, I plan on making meal prep a part of their curriculum, giving them a lot more responsibility and independence in there.  

post #7 of 13
My kids started early and have progressed according to their skills and interests. My 10-year-old has been making dinner for the family (on occasion) since last year. A typical meal by her would be vegetable soup from scratch, home-made herb buns and tapioca pudding. About the only thing she's not comfortable with is pouring the big pasta pot through the colander. It's a height and strength issue.

Clean-up is part of the cooking process here, so when I show my kids how I cook I'm always talking through the thinking process on minimizing and organizing clean-up. I try to teach them that clean-as-you-go is the best strategy, so you don't end up having to spend 20 minutes at the end to make the kitchen right. Let's keep this in this zone, because it's messy, and clean it up right away so it doesn't contaminate other areas. Let's mix these in the measuring cup so we're not dirtying another bowl. That sort of thing. From an early age "helping in the kitchen" meant learning to do clean-up as a part of whatever else.

As to safety considerations, we just started out with close supervision and lots of talk about how to use knives, heat, etc, in safe ways. As they proved themselves responsible and reliable about the safety issues, the supervision was relaxed and then eliminated. It's hard for me to remember exactly how old they were when they began doing things like frying eggs, using the blender or baking muffins, but by age 10 they were certainly doing just about anything they wanted without supervision, and had been for a while. Those increments in skills and confidence really build up over the long term.

For a year we had a biweekly get-together with another unschooling family where we would cook together all morning from the geographic and ethnic traditions of a particular nation. It meant 9 kids working together with two adults supervising, and a lot of experimenting with new recipes, foods and techniques. We made cheese, soufflé, baklava, sushi, tiramisu, borscht, crumpets, tamales, fired plantain, toffee, and dozens and dozens of other things. The kids fed off each others' skills and loved sharing the things they knew how to do. It also provided a chance to make sure we really had covered all the bases with safety; the youngest was four and the kids all kept an eye on each other. It was fun, though certainly not necessary for competence in the kitchen. Perhaps it played a role in how precociously capable in the kitchen my kids seem to have been.

post #8 of 13
I should add that my 5yo son has a much harder time with the knife, more than my older son did at that age.  He tries really hard, but he lacks the hand and finger strength necessary to keep the knife steady and do the job safely.


You can get what is referred to as a lettuce knife in a cooking store. I found it cheaper than ordering it off Ebay or Amazon also and I wanted to feel it prior to getting it anyway. They are plastic and very strong, sharp but not like a regular knife would be. http://thekitchensinkshop.com/products/Progressive-Santoku-Lettuce-Knife-.html


It is larger but it works great on carrots and potatoes. My DS has had it since he was 3 and we love it. 


I do find at this age 3-6, if I give a veggie cut down vs a whole one, that works better and is easier to work with for starters. I will slice most potatoes in half, large carrots too.

post #9 of 13
Totally agree with halving veggies to make them easier and safer to cut. While I don't see any harm in a plastic lettuce knife, I do think it's important to recognize that if a child's basic technique and respect for sharp objects is there, a dull metal knife is more dangerous than a sharp one -- because so much force is required to initiate a cut with a dull knife, and the object can roll, or the knife can glance off at an unexpected angle.

post #10 of 13

Good ideas-  I will check out that knife out on amazon!  

post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 

Great ideas in this thread! 


You know that annoying age where everything takes forever and is messier if they do it themselves? Yeah, that is what cooking with the kids is like. I get they are learning.  I really just need to suck it up, restock my patience and just accept that at this point the kids cooking will result in more work for me.  I think knowing how to cook is important and I was in the kitchen as a young kid.  


Thank you for all the sharing guys!

post #12 of 13

yeah it is like that for a bit emaye. Now I have three kid who can cook I forget that.


I've always expected my kids to be part of cleaning up. I think that's meant that they are not too messy. But we have big issues with our kitchen anyway which mean that right now its not kid friendly. Everything is too high up and its hard to clean. So I don't feel like I'm teaching this side as well as I might because sometimes I do end up saying, "ok I will clean" just because they cannot reach the shelves or whatever to put away.


I very much agree with letting/teaching kids to use proper utensils. I don't have an age limit on when knives etc can be used. My kids actually have used knives for a long time anyway as part of forest school and they have their own carving knives which are far sharper than anything in our kitchen. I show them how to use the knives, make sure they can use them and provided they are safe with them then i let them get on with it. We don't have a huge house so I wouldn't be miles away anyway, but in three kids and probably five or six years of at least one independetnly cooking we have never had an accident. Ditto lighting the stove.


My kids cook very regularly for themselves and the family, certainly both my older two (9 and 7) can put together a hot meal. This is often beans on toast or egg on toast or something but they can make a lot of other stuff-its just that that, sadly, after all the baby led weaning and all the rest, for them beans on toast is their idea of a serious treat ROTFLMAO.gif. We also have a couple of kid recipe books that they appreciate.

post #13 of 13

dd has always been interested in cooking and baking, though of course she expects variety, not just the same routine cooking work of every day.  SO at least it has forced me to learn some new recipies. 


I put a big tray under the bowl so that when she measures any excess falls on the tray. 


Regarding mixing and  kneading flour  I have learned to start any baking project well in advance or with no time constraint so that I am not worried about how long she spends playing with the dough, which anyway helps with the kneading.


re: pancakes Emaye - until you are ready for them to use the stove, if you have a waffle maker maybe you could interest them in that?  you can use the same pancake batter.   dd has made pancakes as well, with me also standing in the kitchen next to her.    She also helps stir the pot for things like soup or spaghetti sauce.    These are the times she has been at the stove.  Apart from that she helps with things like shelling peas, some cutting, and aforementioned mixing and kneading.  One more thing she makes is guacamole which requires little cutting, but other interesting operations like pressing the garlic int he garlic press or squeezing the lemon.  And she can do the whole thing by herself, though I still cut the lemon for her.   But the avocado being a bit bigger and also softer, is easier for her to cut.

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