Kitchen Boot Camp: How to Cook with Kids

Looking for a new activity to keep the kids engaged this summer? Send ‘em to boot camp — in the kitchen. Cooking is a valuable lifelong skill; teach them how, and you’ll be giving them a lesson in self-sufficiency! Moreover, cooking teaches organization, sanitary skills, math, following directions and creativity. And—bonus!—dinner gets made in the process.

Kids learn fast. With a little on-the-job training and a quick kitchen orientation, you’ll soon be delegating simple tasks like making salad, shredding carrots or cooking pasta. And you’ll be able to ask the kids to start dinner without being scared they’ll burn the house down.

1. Kitchen Basics

Start with basics. Cleanliness when handling food is super important! Teach them to wash those hands—the right way. It may seem silly, but there is a proper way to wash hands: Use plenty of soap and warm water, and work into a lather. Scrub the backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails, all while singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Just like hands, countertops pick up all kinds of icky germs and bacteria. Make sure to clean and sanitize your work area before beginning. Make sure they understand cross contamination is yucky and can make them really sick. Use separate cutting boards for produce and meat and wash hands and contact areas after handling any raw meat, poultry or seafood. 

And before cooking or eating, wash and scrub those fruits and veggies! Pick out a cute fruit and veggie scrub brush with the kids to make it fun.

Subscribe to the “CAYGO” method of cooking (Clean As You Go), so the kitchen isn’t a total disaster when you’re finished cooking. While the, “I cook, you clean” mantra of many married couples is a nice way to divide labor, instill the habit of leaving the kitchen cleaner than when they found it. You want them to be a good college roommate some day, right?

2. Set the Stage

Crank up some tunes, and have fun! Have your kids read the recipe out loud so everyone knows the order in which each step needs to be done. Can certain tasks be done at the same time, like boiling water and chopping veggies?

Gather kitchen utensils and equipment that will be used for the main event. (Isn’t this exciting?!) Having everything in place makes following a recipe easier for young chefs.

3. Safety First

Teach kiddos how to properly slice foods or how to use a food processor for finely chopped veggies. And make sure they use the finger claw technique when slicing and dicing, with their fingers curled back, safely away from little fingers. Nobody wants to end up in the emergency room during this cooking lesson!

4. Time to Cook

Make a simple snack or meal, and have the kids learn by DOING. Resist the urge to do it all yourself because you know you can do it the “right” way. This is a teaching moment, after all!

My mom teaches all the grandkids to make omelets the first time they cook. It’s a balanced meal that covers a lot of basics (food safety, timing of ingredients, etc.) and still allows for creativity.

Here are some other easy and healthy meal ideas:

  • Salad dressing
  • Whole-grain muffins
  • Tea sandwiches
  • Pancakes
  • Kabobs
  • Bean dips or Greek yogurt dips served with veggie sticks

Last but not least, set the table and enjoy the meal together. Research shows kids eat more fruits, vegetables and milk and eat less junk food when they frequently eat a family meal. And now they’ve learned some basic cooking skills, schedule a reoccurring “mom’s night off” where the kids do the cooking. You deserve it! Just remember it won’t be perfect, but it will be done.

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