Patch implemented a routine in our house called sous chef. Essentially, each weeknight one of the kids is assigned to function as my sous chef for the evening. It is noted in our Google calendar. So, when I am prepping dinner, I can pull up the calendar and see that Noah or Abbie or Eleanor or Maddie is my sous chef for the evening. (Elliot, on the other hand, hangs out near me, opening the oven door, dumping containers on the counter, pressing any electronic buttons he can find. Quite helpful.) 😉 Some nights, I don’t have much to prep or I’m in a big hurry, so I don’t call on them. Others, I’ll yell, “Noah, you’re sous chef, come and help me!” Usually, he is more than happy to assist. This does not always speed up the process of dinner making. But, I do know how important it is for their futures. So, I do try to include them.
While teaching in a university nutrition department for over 10 years, I saw many college-aged students taking our Foods course who were clueless in the kitchen. Many had an interest in nutrition and health, but lacked the skills necessary for creating healthy meals. Research has found that cooking and eating meals at home is correlated with lower body weight, and vice versa. (See studies: here and here) Cooking with your children is the perfect way to teach them the skills they will need to be healthier adults.
You can start by including them at a relatively young age with age-appropriate tasks. See this post from thekitchn.com (one of my favorite recipe, cooking, meal planning, organization sites), where they list various skills that are likely appropriate for certain ages. As they point out, every child develops at a different rate. Some are more mature. Others have great fine motor skills, while some struggle in this regard. You know your child best, so take their skill level into consideration when assigning them tasks. As long as you are right there, you can jump in and help when needed. Simple changes like allowing younger kids to use a plastic knife instead of a real knife can lower the risk of an accident.
If you are not skilled in the kitchen, then this is an opportune time to learn simultaneously with your children. Start with some simple recipes and build from there. They do not have to be fancy or turn out perfect. I have had my fair share of Pinterest fails! If a recipe doesn’t work out, try to figure out what went wrong and where you can improve. If you just hated it, then move on and try another next time. (Maybe have some pasta on hand (to cook up in a pinch), in case this is a possibility.)
You will likely be surprised how much the kids like helping and how quickly they pick up skills. And, these are skills that they will carry into adulthood. So, don’t let your need for a perfectly clean kitchen or fear of what could happen hold you back. Kids thrive on gentle encouragement with supervision. Get them cooking and start them on the road to home cooked meals for life!