I LOVE to cook, and I love good food.
I try very hard to not sacrifice the quality of our meals for the quantity or price since we are a large family with growing kids. I want our kids to have a wide palate, understand meal planning, nutrition and be capable of independently preparing a meal.
While Johnny and I have always encouraged “food” independence (like getting their own cereal, choosing their snacks for lunch, or baking sugar cookies etc) before bus life, I didn’t really “try” to take the time to teach them how to cook. It was just easier for me to make the one and done meal. As our tiny dwelling journey continues, our tiny home kitchen has really served us amazingly. It’s like a play kitchen, all of the appliances are smaller and my desk is on the other side… so I can sit and work but also monitor and teach. I think it’s important that the kids to retain a healthy respect for the dangers that can present themselves while cooking while having confidence in themselves.
Before you do ANYTHING… you must begin with establishing the RULES OF THE KITCHEN. With hot liquids, sharp objects and bacteria like salmonella and ecoli the kitchen isn’t a walk in the park…shit, I’m 30 and I cut the tip of my finger almost off AGAIN last week! At each age level, more rules will apply and they are compounding.
- Basic Food Saftey Rules
- Wash hands, surfaces and kitchen utensils
- Tie hair back and pay attention to long/loose clothes!
- Make sure your workspace/countertop is clean.
- Keep all raw meat separate from cooked and other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook to proper temperatures.
- Taste-testing only happens at the end of cooking and never when there are raw ingredients. AND No Double Dipping – don’t contaminate it!
- Refrigerate promptly to 40°F or lower.
- Have fun and know we all make mistakes in cooking/baking!
Parent Tips for “Supervising” in the Kitchen
Recipies are the lesson: The recipe should tell them everything they need to do and have. Your job is to guide them, being the muscle for some jars and maybe putting out a little stovetop fire … but that’s why you are there, the help them learn. The recipe is their reading comprehension, math, chemistry and more. For younger kids, you can station pre-measured ingredients and follow the recipe.
Learning & Teaching Patients: Parents you will just have to learn to breathe the first few dozen times and the kids have to learn how to wait for their results. The delayed gratification is the worst part… so when you are figuring out recipes, try to choose the ones that will relate with your child’s span of patience.
Letting them have ownership: I can get pretty possessive over my food… especially if I took the time to make it. House rule here is everyone has to try everything and mom gets the best piece every time. Not kidding. Give your kid(s) some sense of ownership throughout the cooking experience. Whether that be having specific tools that are theirs, letting them lead (tip: pre-measured ingredients so they just have to follow instructions) or creating their own space for them to prep/complete their tasks.
Forgive & Forget the Mess: This was the hardest part for me. Most times I’d say no to them because I knew it’d make a mess or they’d waste something. The truth though, most of the foods that they first will be learning about or cooking are cheap items but the lessons they learn will be invaluable. You’re not going to let your 9-year-old cook a 26oz Porterhouse with Potatoes au gratin and sauteed broccoli rabe… (yet), so let them have fun, learn from mistakes and teach them that cooking comes with the responsibility of cleaning, amongst other things.
4-6-Year-Olds: Starting With Fundamentals
Also, known as the “ I can do it by myself” age… and my favorite. There is still an innocence to their strive for independence. You want to try to guide them through the process and give them choices. This allows them a sense of ownership and decision making ( Pick two eggs, Which spoon should we use to stir? etc.) Remember to watch for quick taste testing fingers and to reinforce food safety rules.
They Can Definitely:
- Wash hands – Teach them to sing a song or two to do while washing.
- Wash produce
- Cut Soft fruit with a smooth butter knife
- Make PB & J’s (get a small spread knife)
- Wipe up tabletops.
- Mix ingredients like easy-to-mix batters, salads, etc.
- Brush on cooking oils.
- Add items/push buttons for smoothies.
- Cut cookies with fun shaped cookie cutters
- Use a peeler
- Break eggs (remember to wash hands afterward)
- Scoop out avocados after sliced by an adult.
- Deseed tomatoes and cooled, roasted peppers with a spoon.
- Snap green beans.
- Load the dishwasher/ Put away clean dishes
- Shuck corn and rinse.
- Rinse/Cut lettuce, watermelon, bananas with a butter knife
Jacob (5) – prepares his own cereal, peels/gets his own fruits, Can make a sandwich lunch and make ramen by pour-over method (although he still needs help sometimes pouring the hot water)
Next Level Saftey Rules
- Always keep pot and pan handles turned toward the back of the stove.
- Be sure there is nothing flammable near the stovetop (your clothes/hair, napkins/towels, packaging.
- Always use oven mitts or hot pads.
- Cut with the claw!
7-10-Year-Olds: Expanding Their Skillset
Dexterity has improved, same with reasoning… for the most part. We still are enforcing food safety rules and responsibility. You can introduce meal planning and let them have a day of the week that they choose the menu and you are their sous chef.
They Can Definitely:
- Use can opener
- Slice most fruit (caution with mangoes/melons)
- Pound chicken on a cutting board. (Always use a separate cutting board for raw foods, and wash hands after handling raw meats).
- Beat eggs.
- Check the temperature of meat with a food thermometer
- Juice a lemon or orange.
- Cook pancakes, grilled cheese, spaghetti, eggs/bacon, grill hotdogs.
- Ramen 3 ways – Microwave, Boiling water Pour Over & Stovetop
- Make pre-mix easy muffins/cookies / follow basic recipes
Matthew (9) – uses the instant water pot to make ramen, oatmeal, tea. He can use our countertop convection oven to toast bagels, bake the easy-mix muffin batter, the electric skillet to make eggs, bacon and pancakes and the ninja to make smoothies. Currently, he’s learning how to make his own burgers on the gas range.
Chloe (8) – uses the instant water pot to make ramen, oatmeal, tea. He can use our countertop convection oven to toast bagels, bake the easy-mix muffin batter, the electric skillet to make bacon and pancakes and the ninja to make smoothies.
11-13-year-olds – Leveling Up and Getting Costly
Throughout them “leveling up” you must always be assessing their capabilities. Try to remind them of things they need to remember rather scolding for forgetting (like unplugging appliances, moving pot handles away from edges and how they use their knife). Alexis is 11 and for the most part, she just has to ask me before she uses ingredients I might need or food I mentally saving for later. Remember they are still kids so they will still need some adult supervision. As they grow and learn what they like/want try to include them in your meal planning and prepping. Allow yourself to step back and always have a few backup freezer meals in case it doesn’t work out!
They Can Definitely:
- Boil pasta.
- Microwave foods.
- Follow a recipe, including reading each step in order and measuring ingredients accurately.
- Bake foods in the oven.
- Simmer ingredients on the stove.
- Slice or chop vegetables.
Alexis (11) – My Asian child. She likes sardines, eats tofu, sushi, and chicken feet if it’s cooked correctly. She has my palate + some ( I do not do animal feet or sardines)She’s pretty confident in the kitchen and really likes to watch
What They Learn By Cooking
- Hygiene & Food Safety- when to wash hands, how to store and prepare
- Math – counting, dividing portions, doubling recipes, adding and subtracting
- Ingredient ID and learning their origin
- Understanding kitchen equipment and how to use it
- Reading Comprehension – Understanding the recipes
- Following instructions
- Different tastes, textures, and foods
- Patience and Time telling
- Chemistry in cooking
- Dexterity, fine motor skills, and coordination
As they get better they can make their own lunch, your lunch and soon dinner!