15 Tips for Cooking With Kids

Get kids in the kitchen and good nutritional things can happen. Stephanie Sicore [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Why would your child order broccoli in the school cafeteria if she never eats it at home? And a kid isn't likely to become a veggie-loving adult if he didn't grow up eating them as a child.

One way to remedy that: Start cooking with your kids, regardless of their age.

“It’s not that terrifying,” Lola Bloom, co-founder and executive director of City Blossoms, a nonprofit that engages children in developing and managing creative community green spaces in Washington, D.C., told a recent Georgia Organics conference workshop on Cooking With Young Children Ages 2-9. Just remember, though, she cautioned, “it’s about the process, not the outcome.”

While the workshop was for preschool and elementary school teachers, the tactics Bloom suggested are easily applied at home. So is the goal, making healthy food choices. To ensure the outcome is happy for all parties, Bloom offered several tips for cooking with children.

  • Make it fun. Wear aprons. Sing songs. Bring other things into the process that your children enjoy.
  • Use smart kitchen prep. Think safety, especially in using plastic knives designed for children rather than the real thing. Bowls, a mortar and pestle, and spoons are generally tools children can safely use. Wipes are better than hand sanitizer and washing hands regularly without using too much liquid soap is important.
  • Think pickables. Grow plants that produce food children can pick. Think blueberries, (thornless) blackberries, raspberries, herbs and tomatoes, for example. Don’t be upset if the kids pick too much. Herbs are great starter plants for children. If kids go overboard picking, for instance, herbs typically will keep producing and can be dried.
  • Consider bridge foods. Children love cheese. A simple food you can make with cheese is a quesadilla. You can also add herbs and other plants such as peppers from the garden.
  • Tempt the taste buds. This is a great way to introduce children to new food, especially food they haven’t seen before and may not want. Introduce new foods, especially ones they may be resistant to slowly. Be aware that older children can have a negative peer pressure influence. If an older sibling or a friend doesn’t like something, you could have a challenge on your hands. Another challenge is to remember that little children have more taste buds than adults. Some strong-tasting foods can overwhelm them.
  • Use multiple senses. Think touch, smell, hearing. Don’t be afraid to tickle a cheek with a chive. Do some foods smush up? Are others crunchy? Again, go slowly. You can always give more, but it’s hard to give less when developing sense to various foods.
  • Taste things first. It’s a good idea to taste something before your children do. After you give thanks, if that’s your custom, you can add to the fun by toasting or giving cheers for the children’s efforts in making the meal. If things go south at that point, some adult lines to defuse little tempers are... "Remember, we made this together" or "We should respect the hard work that went into making this meal."
  • Don’t yuck my yum. Teach children to be honest but sensitive about their feelings about whether they like a food. What they say may not hurt them, but it may hurt another child’s ability to like or even try that same food. "Yuck!" and "I don’t like that" will have different impacts on young minds.
  • Think safety first. Be aware of the possibility of choking and know what your children are allergic to. But we aware of this trick. If kids don’t like something, they may figure out on their own — or learn from older siblings or peers — to say they are allergic to it. Know your kids!