5 Mistakes We Make That Drive Kids Out of the Kitchen
Do your kids make you crazy in the kitchen? Conversely, do you wish they would spend more time with you in the kitchen? Better yet, do you wish they will someday be able to prepare meals for themselves and the family?
Most parents want kids to help in the kitchen and to learn how to cook so they can save money and eat healthier when they are on their own someday—at least in theory. But many of us are unintentionally driving our kids away from the kitchen with our words and actions.
If you want to get your kids cooking, avoid these five common mistakes.
1. Being overly critical.
Constantly correcting kids or telling them they didn’t do something right likely sucks all the joy right out of cooking for them. When I first taught our daughter, Celia, how to make an omelet, I corrected her technique too much and almost scared her off. But then she snuck into the kitchen when I wasn’t around to make one for herself, and it came out thinner and more even than any omelet I could have made. That’s when I knew I had to hold my tongue.
Do this instead: Let kids experiment and do things their own way. They may come up with a creative approach you’ve never thought of or turn out to have a better technique. As long as they’re not creating any immediate danger for themselves or others, who cares if your children are beating eggs with a spoon or if their sauce doesn’t even come close to reaching the edge of the pizza crust? Enthusiasm and engagement can come first; proper technique can come later, preferably when they express interest in it.
2. Keeping things too easy.
Often our fears keep us from letting kids handle sharp knives, hot stoves and raw eggs. But not giving them enough responsibility or not letting them try things that may make us a little nervous will mean that cooking will quickly get boring and they won’t develop the skills to cook independently, and ultimately help us in the kitchen.
Do this instead: Challenge your kids with new and advanced cooking tasks or let them challenge themselves when they feel up to it, teaching them the safe way the first time, making sure they master the technique and then letting them try it on their own even if it makes you or them nervous. In your words and in your mind, focus on the positives, like them learning to cook independently, instead of the dangers.
Let them practice cutting strawberries and then grapes with a serrated butter knife, and then graduate to slicing celery, flat side down on a cutting board, with a chef’s knife. Of course, when children are handling sharp knives and hot stoves, it’s important that you supervise at first, and that they are completely focused on the task at hand and not distracted. And when they are working with raw eggs or meat, it’s important that they learn proper kitchen hygiene.
I always try to remember—and remind parents I work with—that there’s more long-term danger to their health if kids don’t learn to wield a knife, work a hot stove and cook homemade food than if they do, because they’ll be bound to a life of often-unhealthy processed foods and restaurant takeout.
3. Talking too much.
As our children’s skills progress, it’s hard for us to let them figure stuff out and not volunteer information they didn’t ask for, which can harm their confidence and spirit of learning and experimentation.
Do this instead: Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut unless our kids ask for help (the same goes for my husband when he’s on cooking duty). As long as they aren’t in danger, practice not saying anything when your kids are cooking unless they ask for help, and when they do, there’s no need to over-explain. Keep things simple and succinct.
4. Exuding stress.
If we act stressed out, annoyed or fearful when kids enter the kitchen, we are inadvertently chasing them away. I remember days when our kids were smaller and wanted to “help” me cook when I was feeling overwhelmed. In those situations, it’s hard not to refuse, because we know that the children will just add stress and create more mess. But it’s important to take a deep breath and try to make them feel wanted while they still want to be in there with us. Before long, they’ll actually be able to prepare a salad or mix a dressing and make our jobs easier.
Do this instead: Be welcoming. Ask your children if they want to see or smell or taste, and ask for their opinions on how to adjust a recipe (give choices). Letting them pitch in and offer their thoughts sends a signal to kids that they are important and their opinions are valued.
What’s more, an open kitchen design helps make everyone feel welcome, whether they are cooking or not—something to keep in mind if you’re remodeling your kitchen and want to make it more inviting for your kids.
5. Being a neat freak.
Sometimes we focus so much on cleanliness that the joy of creativity is lost. If you grump when your kids make a mess and follow them around with a sponge, you may need to take a step back and let them get a little messy.
Do this instead: Let them make a mess—then ask them to help clean up when they’re finished. Or make a rule that whoever cooks gets the night off cleaning. With small children, I sometimes found it most effective to keep a step stool in the kitchen and confine their mess making to the kitchen sink, where they could create their own spice blends and potions.
If you really want to get your kids on the right cooking path, get each family member—including the kids—in the habit of being in charge of a meal for the family once a week. Here’s an easy, kid-friendly recipe to get them started:
Soup-er Easy Black Bean and Corn Soup
Prep and cook time: 10 minutes Yield: Six 1⅓-cup servings
Three cans (15 ounces each) reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
One can (14 ounces) corn kernels, drained and rinsed, or 1½ cups frozen corn kernels
1 cup salsa
1 cup water
One-half teaspoon cumin, or more to taste
Optional toppings: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, hot pepper sauce, chopped fresh cilantro, tortilla chips
- In a medium stockpot over medium heat, combine two cans (3 cups) black beans, the salsa, water and cumin. Bring the mixture to a boil (cover it for faster boiling).
- While the mixture is heating, use an immersion blender (also called a stick or hand blender) to puree it right in the pot, leaving it a little chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, combine the ingredients in a regular blender, puree them and then transfer to the pot.)
- Add corn and the remaining can of beans to the soup. Continue to heat it three to five minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Serve the soup immediately, topping each bowl with about 1 tablespoon sour cream and 1 tablespoon cheese, if desired. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate the soup for up to three days, or freeze it for up to three months.)
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