Cooking with Kids – 4 Simple Rules for Success

If you enjoy cooking and have kids, at some point in your parenting life you have probably scrolled through social media, baffled by posts of parents cooking tidily and happily with their kids. The cookies turned out beautifully, the kitchen was far more organized and cleaner than yours, and everyone looked well-groomed and happy.

That was  certainly not the scene when I cooked with my young kids. 

The cookies were messy and many were eaten; flour found its way far and wide, and someone usually ended up crying. At the end of the million accumulated dishes, the kids were sticky, and I was exasperated. Sigh. 

BUT, I’ve learned a few lessons, and now cooking together has become one of our favorite family activities. So I’ll share some of the pearls of wisdom that I’ve gathered over the years.

How to Cook With Your Kids?

There are 4 rules to remember when cooking with young children:

1. Tiny hands need tiny tools. 

It sounds so simple, but a quick scan of the size of your utensils, bowls, and even countertop height, will reveal that most kitchen items are made for adult-sized hands. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to make it easier for your kids to use the real kitchen (this is PocketChangeGourmet after all:), but a few key items will help your children be successful in the kitchen. My children’s time in a Montessori classroom changed my perspective and my parenting. It’s all about preparing the environment for the child to be successful. And in cooking, it begins with the tools.

Do yourself a favor and visit the  For Small Hands catalog and purchase the following few items- it will change your family cooking world!

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  • Wavy Vegetable Chopper ($3.95) Use it for cutting cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, toast, sandwiches, anything you like. It’s a fun way to get your child involved in meal preparation. Plus, it’s super safe. If you are not ready to hand over a knife to your child, start here.
  • Mini Silicone Spatulas ($5.50) This will allow your child to have more control over mixing and stirring when baking. No more flinging batter around clumsily with a too long handle!  This is also my daughter’s go-to tool for making scrambled eggs for the family. 
  • Mini-measuring Beakers These will let your child (and you!) pour liquids into the mix without dribbling down the side of the measuring cup and all over the counter. Promise. 
  • Mini Silicone Tongs These are so easy for a child to use and they don’t pinch fingers! They work perfectly for serving appetizers, too.

The prices are reasonable, the items are high quality, and your child will love using them. You will likely find yourself a returning customer for many of the other items.

2. Location, location, location.

The simple act of moving your child’s preparation and baking station to the lower kitchen table rather than the too-high-for-your-child kitchen counter can make all the difference. I’ve tried step-stools at the counter many times, but it leads to children reaching out of range and inevitably more spills and messes. It also is cumbersome as children have to climb up and down and parents need to work around the stool. At a lower height kitchen table, many obstacles to cooking disappear. Try it and I predict you’ll have less mess, more cooperation and more success Cooking with your kids!

3. Less is more.

Rather than including your children in every step of the cooking or baking process, iInvite them for one or some of the steps. As their attention spans and cooking stamina increase, add more steps. This keeps the task manageable for them (and for you!) and simplifies cleanup. Begin by inviting them to help you do some parts of the process–better yet, ask them to choose which part they’d like to “be in charge” of for the recipe!

Below are some examples small baking tasks for baking with kids:

  • Measure all the dry/wet ingredients
  • Crack the eggs and whisk them
  • Mix the batter
  • Cut butter into cubes
  • Roll out the dough
  • Cut out the cookies
  • Icing and decorating the baked goods
  • Drop the biscuits onto the tray
  • Sweep up flour/sprinkles/sugar on the floor with small broom and dustpan

Here are some small tasks for cooking with kids:

  • Decide what to cook: choose from among a few recipes
  • Locate and collect ingredients in the refrigerator 
  • Write out a grocery list for a recipe
  • Chop up vegetables to add to the dish
  • Put the noodles into the pot
  • Squeeze the lemons/limes
  • Measure and add seasonings
  • Read each step of the recipe
  • Chop the herbs
  • Push the buttons on the timer/instant pot/crock pot

You get the idea! Breaking the cooking task into smaller portions sets your child up for success and manages expectations for both of you. You can always include them for more tasks of the recipe if they are still up for it.

4. Expect temporary mess.

Remember the saying you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs? Well, that truly applies here. You kids can’t learn to cook without a few spills, a few eggshells in the omelette, and a little flour on the floor. But, the mess is temporary, while the skills and the memories are forever. There are a few tools and tricks that can help your kids keep a tidy kitchen:

  • Tiny broom and dustpan. Put the play kitchen toys to work! Let the kids use them to sweep up the flour and sugar on the floor. They will feel proud of their work.
  • Spill sponge and small bucket. This is a trick I borrowed from our child’s Montessori classroom. Have a dedicated space for a sponge or cloth with a small bucket for your child to use for cleaning up wet spills. No need to cry over spilled milk if you teach them how to clean it up.
  • Aprons. Aprons are fun for kids. Aprons mean something exciting is about to happen and they get to be a part of it. Aprons also protect kids’ clothes and mean less chocolate on their clothes, the couch, etc.

Why cook with your kids?

Cooking with your kids gives you a chance to bond as a family, to form healthy eating habits, to save money on food costs, AND have a lot of fun together. Many families have movie nights or game nights, why not add in baking night or new recipe night? Travel around the culinary world together and explore all the tastes and flavors of international cuisine. There is so much to explore! Feel free to share your family’s favorite recipes in the comments!

Here are some of our favorite recipes for Cooking with Kids!

Mexican Basics: Classic Guacamole

Classic Mexican flavors combine to make this delicious dip. Recipe from PocketChangeGourmet.com

Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan spices are simply beautiful: bold colors, bright flavors, and endless flavor combinations. This Moroccan Chicken dish utilizes several classic Moroccan flavors and unites them in a creamy coconut milk sauce. I first made this dish 18 years ago and have found my favorite blend of spices, but feel free to experiment and make it

Pumpkin French Toast Breakfast Casserole (dessert for breakfast? Yes, please!)

This cinnamon-spiked, not-too-sweet, Pumpkin French Toast Casserole recipe is our children’s favorite birthday breakfast! It makes a delicious dessert, as well, but the aroma of this pumpkin french toast casserole baking on a fall morning makes for a dreamy start to your day. Ideal for making ahead, this recipe can be pulled together in 10

Homemade Granola Bars: Back to School Lunchbox

Your family will love these granola bars filled with peanut butter and chocolate. Don’t tell them they are healthy though. Recipe from PocketChangeGourmet.com

Easy Veggie Quesadillas (Three Sisters quesadillas)

Delicious, family-friendly quesadillas loaded with veggies and perfect for easy weeknight dinner or school lunch.

Easy Gluten-Free Sugar Cookies

These delicious gluten-free cookies are simple to make, store well, and are perfect for decorating.

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