Years ago, I was impressed by the example of a young mother who involved her children in every activity around the house. Cooking, cleaning and various chores did not solely rest on her, but were shared by the whole household. This equipped her children to be capable and confident, and relieved her of the overwhelming burden of doing it all.
Of particular note was how she made life fun for her family by cooking with her children. Up until that point, I very much preferred to keep the kitchen to myself: spotless, efficient, and orderly. I still do.
I watched her clear off the table in her little kitchen, set the children around in their chairs, hand them the mixing bowl, measuring cups and ingredients, and let them go to town while she gave instructions. Flour and sugar spilled while wobbly hands tilted unevenly filled cups into the bowl, then flew everywhere as it was whisked and churned into a batter. Spoons and fingers formed cookies on trays in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Sprinkles made rainbows all over the cookie sheets and table. It was a mess. It was so much fun.
What I noticed the most was how happy everyone was, and how relaxed she was about all of it. Afterwards, she set the children to work cleaning up the mess, sweeping the floors, and putting things away. Everything was back in order again!
Soon afterwards, I began to cook with my children. Her example cleared a path and made it easy. The joy my children have when I invite them to come and measure, pour and stir with me is priceless, and the abilities and confidence they acquire along the way is so rewarding. They learn precision, mindfulness, order and safety all while looking forward to a delicious treat.
Cooking with your children not only teaches them essential life skills such as food preparation, cooperation and following instructions, but also shares with them the pleasure of food and celebration by allowing them to participate in creating an end result that others will enjoy.
Do your children want to cook and bake with you, but you just don’t know how to manage it?
I find that it helps to give them a station at the table or kitchen counter, and a particular assignment in the process; ie. “I will measure, you will pour,” or “You may mix it together, and I will finish it up at the end.” If I am cooking with all my children, I give each a particular assignment and tell them to wait patiently for their turn. For instance I will often have one pour the dry ingredients, one pour the liquid, one mix, and one help pour the batter into the pan.
Of course they all have to be the first to taste the fruit of their labor!
Cleanup is teamwork, and they have fun wiping counters and sweeping floors. They are young enough that I still have to go over everything a second time, but they are learning skills and responsibilities that will equip and empower them for life.
The key to enjoying this kind of activity is choosing a day and time when efficiency and perfection are not required. I don’t usually involve all my children in baking a cake when company is coming, nor do I invite them all to the kitchen while I’m preparing a complicated menu.
A joyful home is created through intention and discernment about where, when and how activities are conducted, and making sure that all family members present are able to enjoy a relaxed and purposeful time together.
Cooking with children is no fun if you are stressed out and crunched for time!
With fall in the air and the holidays approaching, now is the perfect time to start incorporating the children in your life in your seasonal baking and festivities. Here are some tips to make it happen happily:
Set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour (cooking with children often takes at least twice as long as doing it yourself)
Be prepared for a mess. (Set up on a counter or table top and remove any objects you don’t want to have to clean later.)
Set your attitude to patience and relax. Be ready to simplify and slow everything down.
Communicate with the children the goal: “We are going to bake chocolate chip cookies together today,” the process: “we are going to measure and stir and scoop and put it in the oven.” Offer options: “Do you want to measure the flour or the sugar?” And give instructions, “Level off the measuring cup with the back of a butter knife. I will offer help if you need it.” Finally, let them know what to expect. It seems many children want to do everything themselves, but not all children are ready to perform those tasks. If they are new to a recipe or method, let them know they must wait for instructions or assistance.
Remember to have fun! In our home, we like to sing or play music and dance in the kitchen while we cook, but if it seems like it will be sensory overload, we keep everything quiet and calm. If a child starts getting frustrated with themselves or a sibling, gently offer assistance, “It sounds like you are upset. Can you tell me what’s bothering you? May I help you hold the bowl while you hold the spoon? Or, He will have a turn to stir the batter five times and you will have a turn to do the same, etc.”
Keep cleanup simple, showing the child how to wipe a surface with a wet washcloth and clean the floor with a broom or vacuum cleaner. I often wash dishes as I go, or let the children wash them if they want to. Sometimes the cookies are finished baking by the time we finish cleaning up and they are ready to sit down and enjoy the reward of their labor, or if a cake is taking longer, I send them outside to play or sit them down with a movie.
This season, I hope you too can make warm memories with the children in your life by cooking or creating something together. Above all, let everything be done with love. Take joy!
How have you enjoyed cooking with your children? Please share your stories, questions and comments below!