I’m one of those people for whom delegation comes naturally, and my to-do list is usually much longer than I can do all by myself. Because of this, a routine part of life as a kid in our house is helping mom in the kitchen. I start kids out at a young age, helping in small ways, and by the time they reach their teen years, most of them have a lot of basic cooking skills. I thought it might be useful to describe the various little jobs I hand out along the way, to give you an idea how it might be possible to teach your own kids some basic cooking skills and get them to help you out in the process.
Beginners (age 2-5)
Little ones love hanging out with mom in the kitchen. When my kids were at the young end of this spectrum, I kept them contained at the counter in a clip-on high chair like this one. As they got a bit older and more predictable, they graduated to a step stool or a sturdy barstool at the counter. Jobs you can give kids this age include:
— Stir dry ingredients that you’ve measured into a bowl. At first I just tell them to mix really well. By the end of this age span, I explain how leaving lumps of baking powder or baking soda unmixed can make bitter bites in the cookies.
—Measure flour into a bowl, counting each cup out loud and leveling each cupful with a butter knife before dumping it into the bowl
—Grease a cookie sheet or muffin tins. You can have them spread the shortening with their bare hands or use a paper towel for a less mess. Little kids love this job.
— Stand at the kitchen sink to scrub potatoes. They can also poke potatoes with a fork to prep for baking. Just make sure to poke each potato a time or two yourself in case they forget a potato.
–– Slice mushrooms or garden-fresh green beans with a butter knife. (To the left you can see my daughter at age 5 helping slice green beans for dinner.) Early on you will watch carefully to make sure they’re ready for this task, but really you can’t inflict a lot of damage with a butter knife. Later on you can explain how slicing the veggies into uniform sizes helps them cook evenly.
— Peel carrots with a kid-friendly peeler. Know your kid: some kids won’t be ready for this til age 4, but most 4 year olds are very able once you’ve taught them. Early on, your child will need close supervision with you guiding hands and showing how to stroke away from themselves. Once they’re good at carrots you can move them on to potatoes. But carrots are easiest at first.
—Crack an egg. Kids LOVE to do this. The trick is to have them crack each egg into a small bowl (NOT your bowl full of cookie ingredients) and then use a spoon to pick out any sheels that accidentally make it into the bowl. The egg goes into your big bowl only AFTER you’ve inspected. Then dump it into your bowl, and return their little bowl to them to crack another. This take patience with teeny ones (and washclothes to clean up the inevitable mess). But by the time my kids are 5, they can crack an egg like a pro.
—Wash pots and pans. Little children love to stand on a stool and splash in a pot or a big bowl with a wash cloth and a scrub brush. Of course you will need to ‘finish up’ each pot– and most likely mop the floor beneath their feet. But they will gradually learn to actually wash, and by the time they’re 5, most kids can actually wash a bowl or pot from start to finish– AND wipe up the puddle on the floor.
— Wipe counters. Give them a washcloth and let them go to town. It won’t be perfect when they’re done, but most likely it will be better. And they’ll have a lovely time doing it.
I’ll describe cooking skills for Real Helpers (ages 6-9), in a future post. How do your preschoolers help you in the kitchen?