Cooking School with the kids … and a surprising parenting hack discovered

Growing up my siblings and I were required to do cooking 4-H which meant preparing a meal in front of judges. It sounds terrifying (and it was) but obviously was empowering and taught a lot of skills (I made a mean clam chowder and sweet and sour meatballs which I’m pretty sure required actual MSG as an active ingredient). We had to follow the recipe precisely, using knives to level off the measuring spoons, and were required to set the table perfectly without hesitation. I think we all know that kids these days need more life skills (including our generation – changing tires, mending clothes, etc) especially those of us in cities. Well, I’m trying so hard during this time, where we are shut in with these almost humans for 24 hours a day, to have them learn how to cook (and clean and do all the things that we as parents have to do to run a house). Guys, its hard now, but its actually a GREAT parenting hack. Here are the real benefits of then learning how to cook (that I see, but I’m not a parenting expert).

  1. Less work for me (at some point, RIGHT??). Why should I cook their meals when they can?? Of course, it increases my workload right now, but I hope it will eventually pay off and they’ll do it by themselves. They get to choose from a couple different recipes or if they are inspired of course they can do something else. (As a reminder our kids are 5 and almost 7).
  2. They don’t battle doing the dishes as much when THEY make the mess. Here’s the psychology – they know that they have to clean up their messes, so by making this mess themselves they feel more ownership over it. It’s screwed up, but if we make their meals I’ve heard them say ‘But, I didn’t make that mess’, which is SO ANNOYING, to say the least, so this way they can get their head around cleaning up a bit more.
  3. It’s good for their confidence and they feel so empowered. Some days have been fun, others its a total struggle (with one of my kids, my other kid LOVES IT) but ultimately they have both been SO PROUD of themselves afterwards and Birdie even says ‘it tastes so much better when I make it’ and I’m like yeah because you put two tablespoons of mayonnaise on each piece of bread.
  4. They practice reading. Charlie is ‘the head chef’ and he walks us through the recipe as he is a new reader. This definitely slows it down (which is why I normally try to start an hour before lunch time) but it’s just so awesome to see him lead us through the recipe by reading.
  5. They explore basic fractions, science/physics, and safety (not to mention better motor skills). We aren’t great “teachers”, but through this process I can see they are learning all sorts of good things that is also WAY more fun for me to teach.
  6. It’s ‘home schooling’ in a way that is actually fun for me (and hopefully them). Remember, that since we opted out of distance learning in favor for home school we actually are in charge of teaching them ‘stuff’ and not all of it is fun for us. This is.

But there is a hole in the market

There is a hole in the market and if I weren’t in a ‘stop pitching ideas that will just make you over-scheduled’ mode I would 100% pitch a kids cookbook. Not because i’m a great cook, but for kids stuff I haven’t found a book that hasn’t made me super frustrated. I’ve now ordered 10 kids cookbooks and while there are a handful of recipes that we have used in each, for the most part they are flawed. Now, to be clear, I think that our kids are very young so these books are I think for the 8 – 12 year old demographic, but for our kids ages (4 and 6) there isn’t a book.

Here are the problems that I’ve found with the kids cookbooks out there:

  • Most of the cookbooks are visually too hard to read for my kids age with an ingredient list on the side, steps on the other page and then the font is FAR too small for them (and me) and way too many graphics that distract them rather than help them.
  • There are too many recipes that kids just won’t eat, taking up space in the book. Listen, I know that eventually they’ll eat curry veggie wraps, but with so many of these books there are only like 4 recipes that they actually want to put in their mouth for lunch.

Here’s what I would like (and what I might start doing): hack these recipes and rewrite them for kids. What does that mean? It’s a step by step that includes the portion amount within the steps so they don’t have to reference the ingredient list instead only focusing on one sentence, and one step at a time. In the perfect cookbook there would be an appealing to children photo (skip the green garnishes okay?) and then a paragraph for parents with some tips or common errors, etc. But one whole page would be step by step in large font, including the ingredient amounts within the copy. There could be a couple picture steps IF NEEDED – maybe for older kids who aren’t being helped by parents, but for us I just want a one page for them to read, follow and own, without trying to also follow picture steps.

I get that eventually they’ll need to learn how to follow a real recipe (with an ingredient list, etc) but right now we need to boil it down to the basic instructions that THEY can follow, to make simple food THEY get excited to eat. Now I know what you are thinking…

Do they cook themselves vegetables??

Cooking School With The Kids ... And A Surprising Parenting Hack Discovered
Cooking School with the kids ... and a surprising parenting hack discovered 10

HAHAHAHAAH. We’ve de-prioritized veggies on the meals that they cook because there is just no way that a 5 and 7 year old are going to voluntarily make themselves a veggie wrap. Right now I just want them excited about cooking and feeling independant and autonomous (especially these days where they are around us 24/7 – how are these kids going to figure out that they are their own person?). Of course I want them to have vegetables but they eat tons of fruit, carrots and avocado and we do smoothies on occasion (not enough). But no, they don’t eat enough vegetables – they can barely handle if an herb touches their plate – but we are picking our battles and letting that one slide if they make and clean up their own lunch. We need this to be fun until it becomes a daily habit/less of a battle, then we’ll start mixing in the veggies….

Our Favorite Kids-Friendly Tools

Cooking School With The Kids ... And A Surprising Parenting Hack Discovered
Cooking School with the kids ... and a surprising parenting hack discovered 11

A quick caveat – at 5 and almost 7 our kids are old enough to use most grown up cooking stuff, but I do know that having ‘their own’ might get them excited. It’s up to you. I personally don’t want more garbage in my drawers so they have some dedicated kids stuff, but its not like they need their own cutting board – they’ll use it for a week then it becomes landfill.

Metal glove for cutting – This glove is actually GREAT if you want them to cut with an actually sharp knife or use a mandolin.

Kids Kitchen Tool Set: This one is so cute but pretty expensive. Generally they can use a normal peeler but these are designed to help prevent cuts so if you are concerned they might be a great bet (plus they are very cute)

Cutting board: Every time I go to chop anything all I want to use is THIS cutting board so of course the kids use it too. And so does Brian. It’s extremely lightweight but durable. The cut marks don’t look super scratchy, and the black really works in our kitchen so it’s not like it stands out 

Ninja Blender: If they need to blend something we like this one because it’s super easy for them to use.

Kids Kitchen Step Stool: This is the stool that we had until the kids were about 4 and were confidant on a normal stepladder. This one was great, didn’t slip but still slid easily to move it around the kitchen (from cutting board to doing dishes) but it does take up a lot of real estate – she big (they are all big and clunky).

Unicorn Apron: Oh I know that you want them to wear a cute canvas and leather stripe apron from Hedley and Bennet, but this is where the exception to wanting to ‘act grownup’ fails. Birdie insists on putting on her unicorn apron (2 for $11) every single day.

Two favorite cookbooks for our kids’ ages (so far):

Cooking School With The Kids ... And A Surprising Parenting Hack Discovered
Cooking School with the kids ... and a surprising parenting hack discovered 12

Good Housekeeping Kids Cook! | Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!)

Again, I wish these cookbooks were a little more user friendly, but there are a few recipes in these books that the kids really LOVE making themselves (Popcorn Chicken, Chicken Salad Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Jelly Pockets, Green Eggs and Ham’which, etc).

Now I just found this kids recipe subscription box that says is great for emerging readers. Has anyone tried this? I’m VERY interested.

If you want to dive it and get them excited, maybe this kids cooking tool kit would be cool? I’m super hesitant to buy it though because I’m fearful that it will just end up clutter up my drawers or worse – end up in the landfill. Plus, I’ve found that part of this “empowering” is kids feeling like a grownup and using grownup tools. Birdie insists on tying her apron herself and she wants no help with the peeler. So, I think my advice is skip the kids version and just teach them how to use your tools. BUT if you are looking to entice them or if you want to give someone a gift (or if you are nervous about your tools), I do think that a cooking set will get them initially excited (it just might wane, almost immediately).

They really just want to make themselves pb and J, almost every single day and its not like we don’t (we probably have 2 a week at least) but the point is we are TRYING to transfer this responsibility (and autonomy/control/power) to them. Realistically this whole ‘reading a recipe thing’ happens 3 meals a week and it does take more time, we are priviliged to have that time. Remember that we are also home schooling so they can take a LONG lunch break. Brian thinks i’m nuts because what would take us 15 minutes is now an hour chore (plus eating and cleaning), and again THERE ARE BATTLES, but while we have this time they will learn skills with the hope that in 4 years they’ll be cooking family dinner for all of us. I think of Tieghan of HalfBaked Harvest and how incredible she was/is as such a young self-taught chef and now makes meals for her huge family all day every day and i’m like YES, THAT IS THE GOAL.

If you are considering trying this with little ones you should know a few things.

  • Lower your expectations in every way. They will make a disaster in the kitchen. They will not do the best job chopping. Just be cool.
  • Let them choose the recipes (which is why i like having the physical cookbooks with pictures). They take turns (with requisite fighting and complaining). I need to be better about planning in advance (to get ingredients ) and just choosing two in which they can choose between.
  • Tackle 2-4 a week MAX (including breakfast/lunch/dinner). Even if its just pancakes on the weekends, make then read the recipe and be the ‘lead chef’ and you’ll feel like you accomplished something.
  • Do NOT leave them unsupervised, especially with pots of boiling water, but know that they will likely burn themselves a bit or accidentally peel off some skin when peeling carrots – so I guess you have to be okay with that.
Cooking School With The Kids ... And A Surprising Parenting Hack Discovered
Cooking School with the kids ... and a surprising parenting hack discovered 13

So if you guys know of any recipe blogs for KIDS where I can print out easy to read/follow recipes for early readers let me know, or cookbooks for that matter that I may have not found. In the meantime, head to my Instagram stories if you want to see how its going IRL. 🙂

Fin Mark

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