Getting Kids in the Kitchen - Small Legacies

Getting Kids in the Kitchen

 By Kendra Johnson

Anyone who has tried baking or cooking with kids knows that the pillsbury commercials lie. It’s not a sweet moment of giggles and licking the spoon. It’s chaos. It’s messy. And it usually ends in yelling or tears (probably from the parent who has to clean the mess after). 

For the past few months, I have been on a quest to figure out how to get kids in the kitchen without the stress. Here’s what I've come to realize about making the process as stress free as possible. 

Be Mentally Prepared for a Mess 

It’s going to happen.  The  key is having them help clean it up. At the beginning of the process I remind my boys. “If we make spills that's ok, we just have to clean them up.” With my boys I often say, “You made the mess so you need to clean it.” Of course they throw it back at me when I have a clumsy moment too. “You made the mess mom, you have to clean it!” That’s a bit annoying. But that’s parenting.

If they spill, we try to wipe it up right away rather than waiting until the end of the cooking process. If we wait until the end, their attention has timed out and it’s all on me to clean. 

Avoid the words “No” and “Stop”

There have been too many times that I have shouted “No no no!” as they are about to spill eggs on the floor or dump an entire jar of garlic powder into the pot. 

What happens when I yell “no?”  They get a super defeated look in their eye and then they don't want to help anymore. 

 It has taken me months to retrain myself to calmly take their hand and say “just a little” or “if that goes on the floor it’ll make a mess.” I keep my voice calm and quiet, and I stay close to physically prevent disaster. Instead of telling them no to a million things, I aim to tell them yes to what they should be doing. 

What does that look like? 

  • Instead of “Stop! Don’t stir so fast! You’re spilling!” I say, “mix slowly.”
  • Instead of “No! You’re ruining it!” I say, “If we stab the cake, It’ll fall apart. Gentle strokes.” 
  • Instead of “No! Don’t put that in!” I say “Wait, that’ll make it super spicy. Add this instead.” 

I try to incorporate as much encouraging dialogue into the experience as possible so that it remains a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. 

Remember to Smile 

I read an article that asked me to reflect on this recently: “When’s the last time you looked your child in the eyes and smiled?” 

I immediately scoffed and thought, “I smile at my kids all the time!” But then I really thought about it. Sometimes I get so stuck in the routines of the day that we go from one thing to the next without actually looking at each other. 

Every time I have the boys help in the kitchen, I feel stressed. The number one thing that helps ease my tension is to remember to smile. When we are cooking or baking together (even at those moments where things aren’t going well) I try to remember to smile at them encouragingly. 

It makes the experience that much sweeter. And if you have a small kitchen like mine, you might even sneak in a little extra side hug during the process too. 

Getting kids in the kitchen can be a very stressful experience, but it’s one of those skills that we know they will carry with them their whole lives. Even when your schedule is crazy, strive to get in the kitchen together every once in a while. The art of cooking is a valuable skill to teach and the quality time together is worth the chaos that comes with it. 

Kendra Johnson is a certified elementary educator based in rural Wisconsin. As a parent and teacher, Kendra has a passion for teaching through engaging and varied techniques. Her background in theatre, educational technology and curriculum development have fueled her passion for teaching life skills to youth creatively.

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