Kids Cook: A Summer Activity (and Beyond!)

By blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!

Update May 2016: if having your kids cut onions or other vegetables makes you nervous, or if your child can use some skills updating in the kitchen, you should check out this series entitled Kids Cook Real Food. It’s only available for a short time, so don’t delay!

I recently started a weekly ritual that I know a lot of you would also love: Kids Cook Night. I’ll share a little about how the process works for us as well as the intangible benefits that are a part of this activity. It’s a win-win all around.

My kids have always enjoyed helping me in the kitchen, but I noticed that around age 7, unless I was really asking them to help out, their desire for other activities began to prevail. I’m guilty of not always delegating tasks because I want them done “just so,” and I take responsibility for that fueling their slowing interest.

But this year we switched our kids to a Montessori school, and I was delighted to see that they were cooking at school with interest, using full-sized knives, the stove, and more (with supervision, of course). This gave me an idea. Why not let them have one night each week to cook dinner for the rest of us? They can get back in the kitchen, and I get a night off. Well, sort of. :)

Kids Cook: A Summer Activity (and Beyond!) on 100 Days of #RealFood
My oldest daughter chopping some veggies

The Process

  1. Each week, we decide which child will be choosing the recipe. I direct them to websites and cookbooks where they have free rein. I want them to feel the opportunity of choice and experience the decision-making process. Last week I had a giggle when I saw “easy healthy dinner choices for kids to make” in the Google search bar. :)
  2. They print the recipe and make a grocery list, which we all take to the store. If it’s not around my normal shopping day, I’ll make a special trip for them.
  3. My kids are ages 11, 9, 6, and 4. Often times, the older two will divvy responsibilities and go with it. I am around to help manage, but for the most part, they are the ones in charge. My 6-year-old occasionally helps, and some weeks she is in charge of choosing the recipe. There is room in the kitchen for kids of all ages!
  4. If assistance is needed in any area, be it in tweaking a recipe, cooking something, or making substitutions, I’m always there to help. (My eldest makes plenty on the stove, but I recently helped them brown sausage for a meal.)
  5. Clean-up is part of the package. I help a little in this area, but they also take responsibility for it.

When I was growing up, my parents and I actually came up with a similar deal. I would cook 3 meals per week, including planning and helping to shop, and they’d pay me a set dollar amount per meal (I was 13/14 at the time). Flash forward to now. I don’t pay my kids to do this, and I don’t consider it a chore. There are so many benefits to this experience, which I’m sharing below.

Another Angle

Lisa’s family does something similar on and off (when they have time), and her 10-year-old has recently really gotten into being in charge of dinner. Lisa recently asked both her daughters to each pick a meal to make, and instead of adding the ingredients to her master grocery list (like she usually does), she suggested they keep their own separate lists.

They were both SUPER excited to have their very own little shopping carts and lists to shop for on their own (with Lisa close by, of course). Here is a little picture collage to recap the recent Trout Almandine and Bread and Tomato Salad (with Chicken) that her oldest daughter made for their family!

Unlike me though, Lisa’s family has a rule that if you cook, you don’t have to clean up. If anything, it is further incentive for the kids to get involved with cooking because they’re going to have to help either way. And let’s face it, cooking is more fun than cleaning!

Kids Cook: A Summer Activity (and Beyond!) on 100 Days of #RealFood
Lisa’s daughter being completely in charge of a meal!

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The Benefits

  • Decision-making. They select their recipe, have a task to complete, and bring it from beginning to end. I love to see this build their self-confidence!
  • Planning. As mentioned above, they need to determine what ingredients we have on hand and what needs to be purchased. Which brings me to the next benefit.
  • List writing. This goes hand-in-hand with the planning part. Having a mental plan and putting it on paper is a skill that is useful at all ages in so many areas.
  • Realization of costs. Money doesn’t grow on trees. At least not in my yard! So I like them being tuned into what goes into a meal. I like to think that this will somehow help them appreciate the meals that we have on our table each night, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
Kids Cook: A Summer Activity (and Beyond!) on 100 Days of #RealFood
My second daughter – so proud of herself. :)

Math. Last week they were making a meal and the 1/2 cup measuring cup was in the dishwasher. My 9-year-old got a refresher in fractions as I gave her some math lessons on what other measuring cups can help her get that same quantity. Also, we like to double recipes quite a bit, which requires some math. I always reinforce the fact that yes, what you learn in school is absolutely applicable to everyday life! Safety. I like to oversee while they are prepping and cooking. It goes without saying that safety precautions should be mentioned and considered on the front end when you give your child a large knife, put them near a burning stove, and more. And also remind them of safety as you go along. Kitchen experience. Hel-LO?! Of course this is a benefit! Getting comfortable in the kitchen at an early age is, in my opinion, a huge win. Dinner on the table. I love that they have full control over this. I love that I don’t have to cook that night (though by no means am I sitting with my legs raised reading a book). And I love that they know how it feels to be on the receiving end of making a meal. Maybe, just maybe, they will watch what they say if they don’t like the looks of a meal since they know how it feels to work hard preparing for others. Though in all honesty, I’ve gotta give it to them – they are pretty polite, and by now I like to think I’m pretty resilient to their not-so-positive comments if they have them. Still, it’s good practice for everyone.

Do your kids cook for your family? I’d love to hear about your experiences and any tips you can share!

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13 thoughts on “Kids Cook: A Summer Activity (and Beyond!)”

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  1. This is one of my favorite posts of the entire blog! I’m not a mother myself, but I agree 100% with everything above! My mom made it a house rule that before we could live on our own, we had to know how to cook. From as young as I can remember, we were helping in the kitchen! By the time we were about 8, we were helping cook the meals on the stove. Clean up was part of being a member of the family. :) As a kid, my friends were always shocked when I knew how to bake cookies from scratch, because they thought dough only came pre-made from the coolers in the grocery stores! Fast forward to my college years, and I was able to live on much less than my friends who didn’t know how to cook. Since I had grown up cooking basic meals in the kitchen, I understood what meals were cheapest, and most nutritious to make. I often ate homemade soups and breakfast meals while my friends ate fast food. When my husband and I are on a tight budget, cooking a fun meal is like a date. :) Cooking is life skill and we need more children involved in it!

  2. I love that you’re bringing your kids’ Montessori education home! I would love for more parents to do the same. My son is 5, and not ready to go solo yet, but he loves to push a shopping cart and get “his” things- I bet if I had him plan a dinner he would have a great time.

    1. I agree, Muriah. You could start off and help him make a list and let him select items from “his” list to put in his cart. Then the two of you could make the meal together, and it can progress from there. Have fun!

  3. My almost 6 year old son just started helping me make cookies. He’s struggled with sensory issues that make him a very picky eater and I love it when he shows any interest in helping in the kitchen. It almost always leads to him trying something new. Our typical approach is that I measure things out and he’s the “Dumper and Mixer”. He loves turning our Kitchen Aid off and on so that’s big fun for him. Just last week he licked the beater for the first time and discovered the joy of cookie dough. I was a proud Mama! :)

  4. I’ve been thinking about this too. My kids help me a lot in the kitchen but it can still be overwhelming because they are 4 and 7 year old boys. I want them to leave my house one day with the skills to cook themselves (and their families) healthy meals. My 7 year old asked the other day why he never gets to pick dinner so I’m thinking he may be ready to start helping me once a week choose/shop for dinner. Thanks for the tips and suggestions.

  5. Wonderful post with great ideas! Seriously cannot thank the 100 Days of Real Food team for your continued inspiration to get everyone, even little ones, into the kitchen :)

  6. My 12 yr old son recently mentioned he would like to be a chef when he grows up. He does some basic cooking but this is a great idea to get him to prepare a whole meal to see is this is really something he wants to do.