Thank you to HelloFresh who sponsored this post so that we can share these cooking tips for little kids. We only partner with businesses that we believe bring value and enjoyment to Halifax families. If you’d like to talk about working together, please contact us. As always, all opinions are our own.
Cooking with children from a young age can help them learn basic counting and reading skills, grasp the concept of following directions, develop their fine motor skills, and, the thing most parents are focused on around food at that age, encourage an adventurous palate.
Buuuutt… I KNOW, it’s also a lot of work to cook with a preschooler. Trust me, I get it. I know the idea of allowing them “help” can seem like it will take too much time. I’ve discovered, however, that if you plan ahead a bit and go into it with the right attitude, it can be a wonderful experience for both of you.
When we received our HelloFresh box last week I used the opportunity to spend some time with my youngest, Mr. M who is four years old. Being the second child he doesn’t always have those one-on-one opportunities that my oldest did and he loves being in the kitchen.
We took on the Crispy Chicken Parmigiana with Cucumber Apple Salad and, I have to say, we did a pretty amazing job together.
Here are my top seven tips for making cooking with little kids a positive experience for everyone.
1. SET UP THE WORK STATION
Before you even invite your little one into the kitchen to help, get out the recipe and assemble all the ingredients at your work station. Either find a stable step your child can stand on to reach the counter, or a child sized table that’s big enough for you both to work at. I recommend cooking with only one child at a time as it can be hard to manage more than one while simultaneously keeping an eye on safety and the recipe.
Have the appropriate measuring cups at hand and the ingredients all laid out. HelloFresh boxes come with each ingredient for the meal all in one bag and portioned out in individual recyclable packages so, for this step, it’s only a matter of taking out that night’s meal bag and setting out the ingredients in order of use.
Lay out any tools that you’ll need in the same space so you don’t need to dart around looking for bowls or pans while you’re cooking, leaving your little one unattended. If you have a hand-held crinkle cutter (seen in the photos below) these are fantastic for little ones to use on fruit, vegetables, and cheeses; aprons keep their clothes protected from messes (and, let’s face it, look adorable); and have some towels and clean-up supplies on hand for the inevitable messes. Be sure any sharp knives or hot stations are kept a safe distance from curious little hands.
2. PREPARE YOUR CHILD
When you call in your child, wash your hands together and discuss the importance of good hygiene, listening well, and safety rules while cooking.
Read through the basic steps of the recipe together so they have a general understanding of what will be happening. The HelloFresh recipe cards have about six steps each and include photos with them which my pre-reader liked as he could point to the image to confirm we were working on that particular step.
3. MAKE THE TIME
Go into this knowing it’s going to take a little longer than usual to make dinner and there’s going to be a mess. You may need to adopt my parenting philosophy of Done is Better than Perfect.
Give your child the freedom to cut items in wonky and uneven shapes or mix things up a little sloppily. If they think the chicken needs a little more cheese than the recipe calls for, let them make that decision.
Feeling empowered to control these small things gives them ownership over the food, which will result in a child who feels like they really played a role in cooking the final dish, rather than just a bystander watching you.
4. LET THEM BE A TASTE TESTER
This is a good space to allow, and encourage, tasting as you go. This has been my best technique in my journey of turning picky eaters into “less picky” eaters by trying new things together and “letting” them sneak a taste of the foods as we go.
I used to worry they were “spoiling” their dinner by letting them do that, but then I realized they’d just eaten the dinner as we went! I’d rather that, than them not taste it as we went and potentially not eat the final product either.
The HelloFresh boxes have balanced, healthy meals in them and they’re different every week so you and your little chef can try different techniques and taste new flavours every time.
This past week’s box also included a meal with shrimp with olives and, to my amazement, both my children tried the olives (thumbs down from them) AND the shrimp (thumbs UP from both of them). I would have never thought to serve them shrimp but now we have a new food that can go in our meal planning.
5. NURTURE THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Watch for teachable moments. Read the words on the recipe card out loud, let them mix up sauces and dressings, talk about where the food comes from and the process of getting it from farm to table, measure things out and discuss what each item does and how it contributes to the final product. As these boxes are already portioned out, it makes it easy to give kids control over adding ingredients on their own without worrying that they’ll add too much or too little.
6. CELEBRATE THEIR EFFORTS (REGARDLESS OF THEIR SUCCESSES)
Celebrate their attempts at cooking techniques as you go. Smile, relax and remember to enjoy the process, even if you’re gritting your teeth on the inside at the incredibly uneven chopping they’re doing (or am I the only perfectionist here??).
They’re learning something new and you’re playing a role in their future cooking independence and setting the stage for your child to have a healthy relationship with food. Think ahead to that night a few years from now when they’re cooking dinner for the family by themselves and you’re relaxing on the couch while they do it . . . long term gain, folks.
When it comes time to sit down to the meal, make a big fuss about how delicious the food is that your child cooked, give them the credit and acknowledge the effort it took them to try something new and develop so many skills. For my Mr M, seeing his father and big sis gobble up the meal he made, and tell him he was a great cook, was a pretty proud moment for him.
7. CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, EVERYBODY, EVERYWHERE
Don’t forget to involve them in the clean-up process as well. The HelloFresh packaging is fully recyclable now so show them how to break down the boxes and put the paper and plastic packaging in the right bins. Then wash the dishes together so that the space is left clean for your next cooking adventure.
You can read my full review of the service last year when they first expanded to Halifax by clicking here.