Getting Kids to Help In the Kitchen (Beyond Baking!)

By Teresa Wagner, RD, LD
May 26, 2020

cooking-kids.jpgHazarding a guess here parents, how many baking projects have you cooked up since quarantine started? I’m not much of a baker, and even I have a few under my belt. As the days at home ticked by, my kids were looking for something new to do … insert baking projects.

My daughter was gifted a baking book from a friend and inspiration abounded. We found a recipe she was excited about, a white cake with chocolate frosting. So I took off my dietitian hat and put on my mom/baker's toque hat and the baking began … 7 cups of sugar later, 5 cups powdered sugar in the frosting and 2 cups granulated in the cake, we had baked a beautiful  cake. Luckily, no one liked it and it ended up in the trash. Generally I am very opposed to wasting food but in this case it’s “waist” food so no guilt here. The effect on the body is far more expensive than the cost of a little (a lot) of sugar and flour.  

A few days later my son was bit by the baking bug and wanted to bake a cookie cake for his birthday. As all parents know, we better be fair so once again, off with the dietitian hat and on with the fun mom hat. Unfortunately this time we nailed it and it was delicious, darn it!

The problem isn’t the baking itself, it’s what happens next. Kids constantly asking for the treats or eating them yourself! If you are like me, when there is something sugary and yummy in the house it will magically have a voice and call out until it’s gone (side note: the usual solution for us is to never have treats in the house as a temptation). This is a huge problem especially because we can’t leave our homes now. It’s also troublesome because stress and therefore stress eating is at an all-time high and our family isn’t alone in baking the time away.

So what’s a parent to do?  

I wanted to take advantage of my kid’s excitement in the kitchen, and continue to build their cooking skills. Cooking is a skill that fewer and fewer of us possess because it takes time – however, it’s something we have a lot of right now. For some we’re thrilled to use the time to teach some new skills and pass on those life lessons to our kids. For others, teaching the kids some cooking skills may reduce some of the daily chores that are on our plates. Either motivation is a win in my book. The following ideas are what’s working in our house.

Ideas for Little Kiddos in the Kitchen

Skills: Start simple for younger children. Stemming beans, tearing up lettuce greens, peeling clementines, and washing veggies are great ideas, and younger kids especially are thrilled to help. Stirring, mashing, mixing, and measuring are other ways young children can get involved—all  of which develop fine motor skills – and again they love it!

Super Simple Ranch Dip.jpgRecipes: Try this corn dog muffin recipe in which the only cutting is slicing hotdogs which can be done using a butter knife. Another idea is a simple yogurtparfait layering full-fat yogurt, berries and nuts. This can be a lot of messy (and healthy) fun. One more easy recipe that also increases veggie consumption is this Lil’ Dipper Veggie Dip. Many kids like to have dips, and this is an easy measuring and mixing recipe.

Ideas for Older Kiddos in the Kitchen

Skills: As they get older, children can help with more peeling, chopping and reading the recipes. Add all the measuring and you’ve basically got a math lesson planned!

Recipes: This Cream Cheese Crockpot Chicken recipe is an easy one my older kids have thrown together with minimal help from me or my husband. If you’re looking to practice some chopping skills, our family- friendly Sloppy Joes recipe reinforces this skill. (Pro tip, serve your Sloppy Joes over some baked sweet potato halves for an extra bonus veggie!)

Lifelong Kitchen Skills

Meal planning is an area so many struggle to do even when life is “normal,” but now that we’re limiting trips to the grocery store, it makes sense to make it a priority to reduce the number of trips needed. To develop this critical skill in my kids, I have each of them pick a dinner idea for the week, look at the recipe and see what ingredients we have and what we need to put on the grocery list.  A bonus is that they’re so excited when “their meal” comes up during the week.

More lifelong skills are to be found as you work through recipes with kids. You’re teaching math skills, especially fractions with measuring cups and spoons. Beyond that, cooking demonstrates the importance of following directions and fosters logical thinking (ie. while the chicken is cooking we’ll work on the vegetable prep since it takes less time.) Science skills come into play with discussion how baking soda/powder work as a leavening agents or how starches like cornstarch or tapioca work in thickening liquids.

With a little bit of coaching and a lot of patience our kiddos will become more and more confident in the kitchen long after quarantine is done.

Oh and if you really want to bake try these healthier recipes instead, Peach Crisp and Black Bean Brownies (you seriously can’t taste the beans!).

About the author

Teresa is a licensed dietitian at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. As a mother of three children and avid runner, Teresa knows that good nutrition is essential for energy and well-being. She also sees first-hand the impact food choices have on her children’s behavior, moods and happiness. Teresa is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her B.S. in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and completed her dietetic internship at Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. She worked as a clinical dietitian for the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

View all posts by Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

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