Before I had kids I thought that I’d be the kind of mum who always cooked with her kids. I’d always be baking bread and little fairy cakes with them. Oh and my kids would be great eaters who didn’t complain about their dinner and always ate their veg. The reality has proved quite different. However, as time’s gone on I’ve learnt that there are loads of great reasons to cook with your kids. Even cooking with toddlers can be a lot of fun.
What my pre-kid self didn’t know what that I’d have my first two kids with just a 19 month age gap, my eldest would become a picky eater and refuse to eat ALL fruit and veg for quite a long time (years in fact and we’re still working on fruit and veg acceptance) and meal times would become my least favourite part of parenting. So cooking with kids dropped off my radar and apart from the odd batch of cakes I hardly did any. Which is a shame because I think it would really have helped my eldest with his picky eating if I’d cooked more with him.
I’m making up for it now though. I have learnt to embrace the mess that cooking with three kids in the kitchen inevitably means. I now love cooking with my kids. My eldest, who is now seven, is still reluctant to get involved with vegetable prep but he does love baking cakes and in particular he loves bread making. My five year old daughter and two year old son however can’t wait to get stuck into whatever kitchen task I throw at them (apart from sweeping the floor which everyone is reluctant to do apart from the toddler who does a terrible job and always bangs his head on the table). And I’ve been amazed at what they are capable of – even the toddler can already do so much that is actually useful. I have high hopes of some distant day, maybe in about a decade, when my children cook my dinner for me.
*Note to self: teach them how to wash up too.*
I wanted to share with Sneaky Veg readers some of the reasons why I think cooking with your kids is brilliant – and yes, that includes cooking with toddlers too, and if you don’t do it often enough, why you should start.
NB: This post contains affiliate links – I only recommend products that I use and love.
Skills for life
Cooking is an invaluable life skill. When I went to university aged 18 I was no master chef but I knew how to feed myself. I was astounded by how many people didn’t know how to make a baked potato or a pasta sauce. Do your kids a favour and teach them how to look after themselves when they leave home. By the age of 11 or 12, or even younger in some cases, most kids can cook a simple meal for the family. And let’s face it when my kids can cook for me I am going to be DELIGHTED! Knowing how to cook will also help our children to make good food choices as they grow up. Having learnt how to put a meal together they’ll be able to tell the difference between a home cooked meal and processed foods.
Cooking with toddlers is lots of fun
It’s a lot of fun. Put away the stress, forget about the mess. Most kids actually love helping to cook and once I learnt to enjoy it I started to really love it too. Teach your kid to hold on to the bowl with the other hand before they whisk anything, keep a cloth handy and get stuck in.
It stops tantrums
Have you ever tried to prepare a meal only to have your toddler whinge and moan about being hungry and then try to climb up your leg? Or prepped an entire meal one-handed with a baby on your hip? Welcome to parenthood. My toddler doesn’t bother with the tantrums before meals any more. He just pulls up a chair and asks if he can help. Sometimes I give him veg to chop even when I wasn’t planning on cooking them so I can get on with the rest of the meal. We’re getting used to having bonus carrots a lot! He’ll be three in January and can already chop vegetables (soft veg like courgettes he can chop on his own, carrots require a little help), beat eggs and knead bread. I use a Foost kid safe knife* for the toddler but my older kids now know how to safely use an ordinary cooking knife.
Helps picky eaters
Many feeding experts claim that if a child has helped you to prepare the food he or she is more likely to eat it. I’ve had mixed results with this in my own family – my toddler will chop courgettes and eat them raw but won’t actually eat cooked courgettes for example! As for my eldest, who is very picky when it comes to fruit and veg, just getting him involved in preparing them is enough of a challenge. But it’s all part of the process of making vegetables familiar. Patience is the key here and I realised a long time ago that I’m playing a long game here – any contact with vegetables, whether they get eaten or not is a positive step in our picky eating journey. You might like to read this guest post from feeding specialist Simone Emery about how to get picky eaters to eat their veggies.
A brain workout
For school age kids cooking is the perfect way to practise reading, following instructions and maths. It also allows them to be creative. You want to make a doughnut shaped nan bread? Go for it!
Want to read more? Here are my 12 top tips for cooking with your kids.
I also wanted to add a little note about kids recipe books. I don’t particularly like many of the kids recipe books that we have – and find that we tend to use “normal” books – but I do like the Ingreedies book* which has lots of recipes that adults will enjoy too. Read my review of the Ingreedies book here. I also like the personalised Mission Cookspossible book, which is great because your kids can be written into the story.
Pin five reasons to cook with your kids for later
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