How many times do you expect to prepare food for your family today? Three? Four? More than that?
If you’ve got kids, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you say four or more times, because I’m right there with you.
Eating real food takes a lot of TIME, and it turns out that’s one of the biggest reasons parents just don’t feel like letting their kids in the kitchen with them.
Kids. Slow. Things. Down.
I interact with a lot of parents on social media, via email, and during live webinars who have good intentions to integrate their kids into the cooking process.
I ask the question often:
What’s holding you back from getting your kids in the kitchen?
I typically see a pretty even split between the winning answers, “too messy” and “too slow,” and I’m always pleased and impressed by the 20-40% of parents who answer, “I actually love having my kids in the kitchen but could always use more tips.”
I’ve addressed a little bit of the “too messy” issue when we discussed the importance of teaching kids to cook when they’re young, before age 5, because although we all know that older kids can make a wreck of a kitchen, it’s the littlest ones that can hardly help it. With proper training, we can reduce the mess.
But what about the “too slow” roadblock?
When Kids are Slow in the Kitchen – Change the Time That They Help
My son has taken to pretending he’s a sloth and doing everything sloooowly, which is hilarious — until he’s in the kitchen, bringing dishes to the dishwasher, or asking a question. #facepalm
Oh. My. Goodness. I am about to make a “no sloths in the kitchen” sign, I tell you!
Whether your kids are trying to be sloths on purpose or they just feel that way to you, it’s really a valid concern.
We have busy lives.
The whole family has to eat, and often we have to eat on time.
Otherwise, we’re late for school, a meeting, a game, or bedtime.
So how can we strategize to get the best of both worlds – kids in the kitchen and yet NOT slowing us down when it matters the most?
The answer is right there in the problem – don’t cook with the kids when time matters.
Ironically, the worst time to let kids help with dinner is…Dinnertime.
Particularly if a child isn’t already familiar with a skill, of course, they’ll slow you down when you’re bustling around trying to cook.
But it’s at dinnertime when they ask to help, and we know that if we want to raise healthy, independent adults and if we really want to be part of the #KidsMealRevolution and redefine kids’ meals as a meal a child has cooked — we have to figure out how to say YES, how to capture their motivation and roll with it.
Here’s what you can say:
“Yes, you may help – but dinner has to be on time tonight. Right now, I’d like you to set the table, and tomorrow (or plan an appropriate day) I’m going to put in the calendar to teach you a new cooking skill, and then you can help at dinner!”
Plan a cooking time completely unrelated to any meal that has to be ready at a certain time.
Wednesday after school.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Put it in your real calendar and stick to it.
You can choose a skill to teach your child right then during dinner prep, and have them watch you do it as their first bit of training, and then have them practice at a separate time. (And of course, the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse is ready to help you figure out what your kids are ready for, what order to teach skills, and fun and memorable ways to do it.)
This training time away from dinner is especially important for new skills – even putting kids at the table for something unrelated to dinner won’t work if they have no idea what they’re doing!
Pro Tip: I often recommend to parents that if kids work at the table, two good things happen. First, it’s a great height for them and more appropriate than the counter, which is usually too high. Second, it alleviates the feeling of “my kitchen is too full and everyone is underfoot!” which is often yet another roadblock for parents.
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How to Let Kids Help with Dinner but Not Slow You Down
The whole “Yes, but later,” strategy may not appease kids if they don’t think they’ll actually get to help with dinner. But you can still make that happen!
- Plan a meal for dinner that can be made ahead of time without losing quality, and let the kids start cooking at 3:30 p.m. If they take forever, it’s ok. They have forever!
- Assign some sous chef jobs right after school or right after lunch.
And once they’re trained but slow-moving simply because they’re learning, you can still have them help at dinner, even when you’re in a rush.
Just find them something to do for the next day’s breakfast or snack or anything else that doesn’t affect your dinner prep.
If you’re intentional about it, you can make it work, and the kids can be as sloth-y as they want and still learn the valuable skill of cooking!
Does Teaching Kids to Cook Actually Help Save Time?
And it’s not all about slowing down, you see.
Yes, there’s an initial investment of time.
But as soon as a child can do one skill on his/her own, they can help save you time.
Even if they take twice as long as you do…if you don’t have to do that task, you still win!
It’s like the “prize inside the box” for us parents who were raised in an immediate gratification world – we don’t have to wait for the benefits because they start right away!
One of our members just shared in our VIP Facebook group about making cinnamon rolls with her small child who looked to be about 5 or 6 years old.
It was his idea to make the treat to share (an attitude of service!!) and mom listed all the skills needed to implement the recipe:
He did all the measuring, pouring, mixing, rolling, spreading…I cut them and put them in and out of the oven and then he mixed up the glaze, poured it on, and put gold sprinkles on top!
That’s a LOT for a little one, and I’m sure mom was very close by, but imagine how helpful this young cook is when his parent needs a little help getting dinner ready!
The bit of time you take with your kids imparting valuable skills in the kitchen really DOES come back to you 10, 20, 100-fold.
We love sharing member photos and successes along with real-life views of my sloths on my Instagram feed – I’d love to connect with you there!
Can Kids Learn to Cook ALL by Themselves?
With knives and fire, there should always be adult supervision as kids learn, but we created Kids Cook Solo to help parents with this very question.
We took the sharp knives out of our pro-filmed lessons and wrote an entire dashboard just for the kids, complete with quick quizzes and a presentation to you to show you that they learned their skill!
Kids ages 8 and up can learn a lot of basic cooking skills with only 5% supervision in Kids Cook Solo:
Whether you get help from Kids Cook Real Food or just say “yes” the next time your kids ask to help, all that time you spend preparing food won’t be a solo activity for you anymore.
Hooray for teaching kids to cook as part of the #KidsMealRevolution!
What You Should Do Next:
1. Subscribe to The Healthy Parenting Connector
2. Try a Free Preview of my Cooking Class for Kids
Our members’ favorite lesson is always our 10-minute knife skills and safety class, teaching techniques with unique & memorable phrases from butter knives to chef’s knives (ages 2-teen). Take a peek here and try it out with your kids.
3. Enroll in the Online Cooking Course for Kids:
About Katie Kimball
Katie Kimball, CSME, creator of Kids Cook Real Food and CEO of Kitchen Stewardship, LLC, is passionate about connecting families around healthy food. As a trusted educator and author of 8 real food cookbooks, she’s been featured on media outlets like ABC, NBC and First for Women magazine and contributes periodically on the FOX Network.
Since 2009, busy moms have looked to Katie as a trusted authority and advocate for children’s health, and she often partners with health experts and medical practitioners to stay on the cutting edge. In 2016 she created the Wall Street Journal recommended best online kids cooking course, Kids Cook Real Food, helping thousands of families around the world learn to cook. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child learning to cook.
A mom of 4 kids from Michigan, she is also a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, member of the American Institute of Stress and trained speaker through Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power.