Whenever I ask parents about their biggest challenges regarding cooking with their children, the number one response tends to deal with the dynamics of cooking with siblings. If you have more than one child, I am sure you can relate. It really gets on our parenting nerves to hear them bicker over every little thing: who gets to go first, who wants this spatula or that bowl, who is taking up too much space (even when there is plenty to go around!). It’s hard to fault anyone who decides to ban the kids from the kitchen after an epic sibling brawl!
Even though this post is about cooking with siblings, may of the same principles can apply when it comes to cooking with groups of kids in a daycare, after school, summer camp or classroom setting.
The dream, of course, is that the kids will listen, collaborate, be respectful and be productive in the kitchen. The reality is that kids are unique – each with his or her own developmental maturity. As parents who hope to cook with our kids, we have to respect each child’s readiness and meet them where they are at. In order to make your time together in the kitchen as positive as possible, let’s break down some tips into categories.
Planning Tips for Cooking with Siblings
Before you start to pull out ingredients and preheat the oven, you need to talk with your kids about what you want to cook together. I suggest having this conversation when everyone is in a good mood and nobody is hungry.
- Remind the kids that if this cooking session goes well, there will be many more to come.
- As the adult in the room, you can set some guidelines about what you want to do. Are you going to try to make dinner together? Remember – this is a high-stakes meal, so you may be more stressed out making dinner than you would be while making snacks or a make-ahead breakfast.
- Once you decide on the category of food you want to make with the kids (breakfasts, snacks, lunch, dinner, dessert etc…), give the kids some of the decision making power. Do they want to pick food that is a certain color? From a certain region of the world? That features a special ingredient? Kids who are part of the decision making process tend to be better participants…and eaters!
- Or – pair cooking activities with your favorite books. Join Kids Cook with Books, our free monthly virtual reading and cooking club for kids ages 2-8. I have done all of the legwork for you by picking wonderful books each month and pairing them with delicious healthy recipes kids can make!
- Depending on the ages of your kids, let them help you pick the recipe you plan to use. Even toddlers love pictures – so get on Pinterest or leaf through some of your favorite cookbooks for ideas of what to make.
- Although it seems counterintuitive, you may want to pick recipes that have LOTS of steps. Busy kids are engaged kids. Engaged kids are productive and less likely to argue. Folding dumplings or rolling meatballs or sushi are examples of recipes that require lots of manual labor – perfect for your underage workers!
- Once you have selected the recipe you all want to prepare, are you going to include the kids on your shopping trip for ingredients or try to go solo? Arguments can be made for both approaches. There are lots of learning activities you can do in the store with your kids, including some of my Produce Passports that are part of my Cook the Alphabet series. OR – you can clear your head, shop alone, and get it done in a fraction of the time. This is purely a personal choice, depending on if you ever get any alone time…or if the grocery store is where you want to spend it!
Organization: Cooking with Siblings
Before we get down to details, now is the time for me to give you a little pep talk. Do not attempt to cook with your kids if you are cranky, impatient, or otherwise rushed in any way. All this will create is a recipe for disaster… Nice pep talk, huh? Okay. Moving on.
- Remember, the process of cooking with your kids is way more important than the finished product. I am a Type-A person, so I am the first to admit that I have goals for how I want things to turn out, and I can find my internal pressure rising with every wrong move. But I have learned to take a deep breath and let it go. If I am stressed, they are stressed. If I have fun and make food an enjoyable topic, the kids develop good memories associated with cooking. So – set your preconceived notions of how things should be aside, and step into the kitchen.
- If your kids are toddlers, take out all of the ingredients and cooking tools before you call them into the kitchen.
- Older kids can run around and get ingredients and tools for you and put them all on the counter. This is also a really great job for kids who have extra energy to burn.
- The more jobs there are to do, the better. If each child has his or her own tasks, they will have plenty of work to do, which will prevent the bulk of their bickering.
- If your recipe has any “down time” (for ingredients to marinate, rise, chill, bake or freeze), be sure you have activities for them to do while they are waiting.
- Personally, I am a big fan of cleaning as I go. It keeps me busy and allows me to relax when the food is finished, since I don’t have a sink full of dirty dishes.
- NEWSFLASH! It turns out that scrubbing, pushing (brooms, mops), and submerging hands in water (washing dishes!) are all excellent sensory activities that help kids to self-regulate!!! (I was a fly on the wall of my son’s occupational therapy for years and picked up a few pointers!)
- Are you going to give each sibling his or her own “station” to work at? This set up might suit kids who tend to fight over everything. These are my tools and tasks and these are yours. It’s pretty clear.
- If you are pressed for space, you could call one sibling into the kitchen at a time. One child could help with the first several steps and another can help with the next phase. If you are preparing anything with dough or batter, simply divide it so that each child has some to work with (rolling, scooping, putting in muffin tins etc.)
- If you are like me, your blood pressure rises with every ingredient that spills or falls on the floor. It’s easy to mediate this problem by putting a tarp, splash mat or old towels on the floor underneath your work station. Simply fold them up when the project is finished, shake them off outside and toss them in the laundry. If you rely on the family dog to clean the floor, please remember that chocolate, onions, grapes and raisins are toxic to pooches.
I like to be honest. Cooking with kids can be challenging. It’s messy, the food doesn’t always turn out as expected, and it always takes longer than it should. But that’s life with kids. It’s our job, as parents and caregivers, to give our children experiences that will shape who they will become when they grow up. If we want kids who are self-confident with the skills it will take to live independently and make healthy choices, cooking with them has to become part of our repertoire.
If you have any cooking with siblings strategies that work for your family, please share them in the comments below. Parenting takes a village and we could all benefit from your experience.
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