By Grass Roots Partner Jovanna Morgan
When I think back to some of my favorite childhood memories, food often plays a central role. To this day, certain aromas wafting through a kitchen immediately transport me to warm feelings of "home."
One of the things I looked forward to most as a child was our Uruguayan tradition of making gnocchi for good luck on the 29th day of the month. My grandmother would cover the kitchen counter in flour and my sister and I would each get a portion of dough to roll our own gnocchi with. It was so messy and so fun and it's one of the memories I hold dear to this day.
Inviting kids into the kitchen for cooking can be a great recipe for making memories (see what I did there? Ha). It brings me joy when my kids take an interest in what I am making and ask to jump in. I find that kids tend to be more interested in the food they’re presented with if they had a role in making it too. As a result they’re more likely to try and eat new things.
And while it’s tons of fun, having little hands “help” in the kitchen can lead to frustration too. Today I want to share some tips for maximizing the fun and minimizing the frustration when little hands jump in to help.
1. Get in the right mindset
If you only remember one tip, make it this one. When inviting kids into the kitchen, having the right mindset will make all of the difference. Acknowledging and accepting that it will be messy is a great first step. Also, realizing that the experience itself is the desired outcome will set you up for success. Were my and my sister's gnocchi pieces perfectly rolled? Absolutely not, but my grandma served them anyway and it made us feel proud. If you’re looking to create a perfect, Instagram worthy meal, it may not be the best time to have your kids help.
I recently had my boys help with making some chicken tenders. The tenders ended up half breaded, half not, and we ended up with puddles of egg wash and almond flour everywhere! But, they had so much fun in the process. It brought me so much joy to watch them and they enjoyed eating their creation, despite its lack of perfection (something we can all learn from, right?). Also, I had them help me vacuum up all the spilled almond flour afterwards!
2. Make it a play/sensory experience
Kids love to dig in and get messy. Choosing ingredients that will activate their senses or that resemble things they play with is likely to increase their interest in participating. With the tenders, the boys loved how the almond flour was like playing in a sandbox and they liked the feeling of egg wash on their hands.
Other ideas would be to let your kids rinse produce, roll dough, use cookie cutters, add colorful ingredients, allow use of kid safe tools, let them "press the button," let them wear their own "chef's uniform," have them smell and describe spices and let them taste the meal along the way!
3. Let them have a say
I often ask my kids for their opinion throughout the cooking process. They love having an influence in the outcome! Some examples questions to ask: Should we add more salt? (the answer to this is always yes for me!) Do you think we should mix in more lettuce? Which veggie do you like best? Should we add paprika to make it red? Is that too sour? Do you think that looks ready? By asking questions, the kids have an opportunity to actively think about what they're creating and by allowing them input, they feel empowered because their voice matters.
Cooking together is a perfect opportunity to make some sweet, kitchen memories. As I plan menus, I will set aside an item or two to create with my kids and, regardless of how they turn out, I will serve them with pride. Happy cooking!