Kids in the Kitchen: Real Life, Real Learning

Math was never my strongest subject, but here’s a simple equation for you: 365 days a year times three meals a day equals 1,095 meals a year. That’s not counting snacks, desserts, or special things, of course.

kids in the kitchen
(If you’re looking for the giveaway, please scroll down to the end of this post)

1,095 meals? No wonder moms are worn out.

Eating is one of those things that’s going to have to happen every day, whether you’ve got a plan or not. You may as well have a plan, right? And you may as well have a team of helpers.

Because, yes, that is what your children ought to be: your meal prep helpers.

Yes, those short people walking around your home are your potential sous and line chefs. Don’t underestimate what children are capable of learning and then doing themselves. Our 4 year old can make her own sandwich, and usually does. The 10 year old can follow a recipe. Our 13 year old can just about get an entire meal on the table herself, although we honestly haven’t asked her to do so recently.

My husband enjoys cooking, and I’m capable in the kitchen, but this is one area where we’d like to be working ourselves out of our jobs, at least a night or two a week. (Taking down that 1,095 number to something more manageable like…1,043.)

Think about all the things kids practice when they’re learning to get a meal on the table:

  • Math skills – how to double or halve recipes, accurate measurements, how to adjust quantities (how many pints in a gallon, again?)
  • Reasoning skills – how many servings would our family need, when should I start each dish in order to be finished at roughly the same time
  • Spatial skills – which pan would be best, what cutting board should I use, how will I serve all my dishes
  • Creative ability – how can I make this look attractive, what sort of substitutions can I make, how can I make this appealing to picky eaters
  • Health awareness – what are the different food groups, what does a balanced diet look like, how can I use up a forgotten item instead of discarding it
  • Stronger relationships – time spent in the kitchen with parents or grandparents is quality time, a job well done leads to genuine praise

That last benefit may be the best. I know my girls have loved their chances to cook alongside their grandmas. And they’re always asking me if they can help me.

Learning their way around a kitchen is a priceless gift, whether you’re raising girls or boys. Sure, we want our daughters to know how to get a meal on the table for their future family or when they’re on their own, but we’d also like our sons to know more than how to heat up ramen when they go off to college or their first apartment.

If the benefits to the child and the family are so great (and they are), what holds us back from turning our kids loose in the kitchen? Well, maybe some of these challenges:

  • It takes time to teach proper techniques to a child. When we’re in a hurry we don’t want to take the time to teach our child along the way. We just want to finish as quickly as possible.
  • Some kitchen tools (knives, hot oven, etc.) are dangerous. Teaching a child to use a knife or the oven can be intimidating.
  • Kids are messy: they spill, they drop, they slosh. And sometimes their clean-up isn’t effective.

That last one is one I simply have to laugh about. Where I can make a meal with a minimum of dirty dishes, my kids seem to need every bowl and utensil in our kitchen to make the same dish.

Someday, when they’re the moms, they’ll realize what a pain a sink full of unnecessarily dirty dishes is. Until then, we’ll laugh about it and clean up together. (Because, yes, clean up is part of meal preparation.)

I may not love the mess they make, but I love the chance to praise my children for a real life “job well done”.

My daughters have made cookies for sick friends, helped to make meals for guests, and simply helped get dinner on the table on a busy day. And these experiences have all been chances for my husband and me to praise them and really mean it. The satisfaction of watching a plate of cookies disappear because they’re incredibly yummy is better than forced praise any day of the week.

All of these challenges to kids in the kitchen can be overcome.

You don’t have to have a child in the kitchen with you every meal. Choose one helper and make that child your sous chef for the evening.

Begin with the proper sized tools.

Don’t give a child your huge knife: find a small chef’s knife that fits in their hand. (And don’t forget to let a young child practice slicing things like bananas with a butter knife.)

Let a young child practice pouring from a china creamer before you give them the milk carton. Teach the children how to clean up their messes: load the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, rinse the used bowl or pan, wear an apron if necessary.

So now, after you’ve taken the time to teach your child proper safety (how to hold knives, proper stove usage, etc.) are there any resources for helping kids learn to get a meal on the table?

I have a great one to share with you:

Simplified Organization
Simplified Dinners for New Cooks is a new resource from Mystie Winkler (of Simple Pantry Cooking).

Simplified Dinners for New Cooks features just 13 tools and 16 skills to get 10 dinner types finished and on the table. Ready to take the mystery out of meal prep for your older, capable kids? Turn them loose with this book.

Just for readers of Living Unabridged, Mystie is offering a coupon code good for 25% off ANY of the Simplified Dinner ebooks when you purchase them from her site (as opposed to Amazon. I don’t have a coupon code for Amazon but you CAN find these ebooks for Kindle there as well if you’d rather).

The code is: reallife. Remember, you can use that on any of the ebooks, not just the newest book for new cooks.

Mystie is also offering a copy of Simplified Dinners for New Cooks ebook to one reader. If you’d like to participate in that giveaway see below – after the first entry (leaving a comment on this post) there are several more ways to enter:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

So, are you ready to work yourself out of a job? Or at least a few of those 1,095 meals?

Let’s get those kids in the kitchen!

More Simplified Dinners Inspiration from Mystie:
Simplified Organization

To see other ways homeschool families use real life learning with their kids, check out this link-up from the iHomeschool Network:
reallifeThis post / giveaway has also been linked up here:

Classically Homeschooling


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  1. My son isn’t old enough to cook yet (he’s only 14 months), but I look forward to the day when he can help in the kitchen! This looks like a great resource.

  2. It’s always fun to have your girls work in the kitchen as we try to get Sunday dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time (which often means limiting the number of girls in our rather small kitchen)!

    Here’s a lesson I learned myself after teaching my children to cook, specifically your brother. “If you teach your teen-aged son to cook be aware that your refrigerator and pantry will always be empty.” You’ve got a few years yet before that happens with iBoy and Sidekick. :)

  3. Hello Karen! My girls are still pretty young but the oldest is getting pretty good at cracking eggs without getting the shells in there. I know what you mean about sloshing! I sometimes wonder if the measurements are getting sabotaged by sloshing. But you’re inspiring me to take on another cooking project with my daughter. I think you’ve written the best and more thorough argument for cooking with kids that I’ve ever read. Very nice post.

  4. Simplified Dinners is a wonderful book to introduce kids to cooking! I loved how I could hand the book to my son, answer a couple quick questions, and let him make dinner for the family. :-)