Spending time in the kitchen with my boys is one of the most important (and fun!) things I do as their mom. Not only does it fill me up, I also get the satisfaction of knowing it has so many meaningful benefits – relational, health, developmental and beyond!
At the same time, I understand the objections. It’s messier, it takes longer, it’s easier to just get it done yourself. Yes, true. But you’d be missing out on all the reasons it’s so good for your child to join you at the counter!
Why You Should Bring Kids into the Kitchen
Why wrangle your kids into the kitchen if it’s easier, quicker and cleaner to get it down solo? Well, it turns out there are a lot of good reasons, and here's five 'why's' as to what makes it such a valuable opportunity for both you and your kids:
- Quality Time → How much time are you already spending in the kitchen? Think of all the steps from unloading your groceries to washing them, drying them, chopping them and storing them. Then there’s more chopping, measuring, seasoning, and assembling required to make your food into a meal. What if you turned it into quality time? The time you spend doing necessary kitchen duties can double down as relational investment as well. As a mom, I’m always looking for ways to get the biggest bang for my buck in where I spend my time, attention and energy. Being with my kids in the kitchen is one of the best ways I know how!
- Exposure and Acquisition of Taste → Research tells us that the more children are exposed to a food, the more likely they are to develop a taste, or at least an acceptance, for that food. In fact, it can take ten to twenty exposures to a particular food before a child begins to find it palatable. When your kids spend time alongside you and all of those veggies in the kitchen, you might be surprised at what they’ll try, try, again, and then decide to eat! I know this from experience! For the longest time, my son Taschen wouldn’t try a bite of celery, and if he did, he’d spit it out immediately. Fast forward more exposures than I cared to count, and he’s at a place where he’ll independently take a bite of the celery while helping me rinse the stalk…and then eat it. This was a huge win, and it wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t in the kitchen with me consistently – washing, chopping, trying, spitting out and trying again, until he finally decided celery wasn’t so bad.
- Modeling and collaboration → Two big takeaways when it comes to setting an example and working together in the kitchen are that kids are more likely to eat healthy if they see their parents eating healthy and kids are more likely to eat foods they’ve helped pick and prepare. This makes such a strong case for the importance of your child being in the grocery store, at the market or in the kitchen alongside you. When he sees you munch on a bell pepper while chopping it, he’ll be more likely to want a taste too. When he’s allowed to pick out the funny-looking veggie you need to Google how to prep, he’ll be more excited to try it when it’s plated. When kids are involved in the process of buying, cleaning, prepping and cooking healthy foods, they’ll simply be more willing to eat those healthy foods. When kids are given the picture of a parent who eats nourishing foods, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
- Teaching Opportunity → What better setting to teach your child important lessons about his mind and body and how he chooses to nourish them than when you’re side by side, surrounded by healthy food?! Starting when my son was only a couple years old, I used my time in the kitchen alongside him to talk about making choices that honor his body – filling it with things that would help him grow healthy, smart and strong. We talked about those big toddler feelings and how amazing it was that the foods he ate could make him feel better or worse, more in control or more out of control. There are a million lessons to be shared and learned over a countertop littered with veggie scraps and cooking utensils. You can use your time together to talk to your child about body positivity and body love (A topic so important to me I wrote a couple books about it!). You can talk about delayed gratification and how choosing what is best will actually make you feel better in the long run over choosing what satisfies a moment of craving. Don’t miss out on this important learning opportunity that will serve them so well later in life.
- Fine Motor Development → Chopping, mashing, tearing, scrubbing, picking apart, patting dry and peeling… Being in the kitchen means learning how to use your hands. Practically speaking, food prep might just be my favorite method of developing fine motor movement and coordination for my kids. And they make amazing sous chefs!
How to Get Your Kids Involved
This all sounds great, right? You might be thinking I’ve made a compelling case for getting your kid in the kitchen but still, how do you really do it? I promise it’s not that hard, but let me give you some ideas to get you started:
- Begin at the grocery store, or better yet, a local farmer’s market. Let your child push the mini cart or carry their own little reusable bag. Tell them they can choose any vegetable they want, and you’ll cook it together! Point out the different colors, textures, and variances as you do your shopping.
- Turn prep work into an experience. Turn up the party music, put away the phone, loosen up and laugh. Make that time in the kitchen together feel like special mommy and me time, rather than a chore.
- Let it get messy. I know a mess might not sound like fun to you. But guess who thinks it’s the best thing ever? Your child. So let the water splash and don’t sweat the blueberries that fall to the floor. For your kid, more mess makes for more fun!
- Let them take the lead. Surprise your child by putting him in the driver’s seat. Let him choose which veggies to wash first, how to chop, or even what seasonings should go on the chicken. It’s easy to spend a lot of the day telling your kid what to do or not do. Empowering them to be a leader in making decisions is both important and endearing.
- Go for the gadgets and the extras! Buy your child kid-sized spoons and a set of kid-safe knives. Does your child love to dress up? Buy the chef’s hat and the apron!
Now, for some things your child can actually do in the kitchen:
And remember, it might be messy and imperfect, but the most important thing is that you’re involving your child and letting him or her take ownership!
- Unload groceries
- Wash and dry produce (Kids get a real kick out of a salad spinner!)
- Pull leaves off herbs
- Tear lettuce for a salad
- Chop foods with a child safe knife*
- Help throw salad ingredients together after you've done the chopping
- Season veggies, soups, etc.
- Add ingredients to the bowl when making recipes
- Add ingredients into the smoothie blender
- Let them plate their food
- Wash dishes
This list goes on, but this will be a great starting point. I'm sure you will be surprised with what they are capable of trying!
*A note on knives: If you’re concerned about your child using knives (even children’s knives), that’s totally okay! Consider having them break the bottoms off the asparagus, break apart florets of cauliflower or broccoli, tear lettuce leaves and herbs, snap the ends off green beans, peel outer leaves off brussel sprouts, scoop seeds out of squash, and so forth. I’d also encourage you to get some kid’s scissor for kitchen use and have your child practice using scissor in the kitchen, and cutting herbs and lettuce is a great place to start. You can find my favorite kid-friendly kitchen staples below!
Day in the Life with My Kids in the Kitchen
This is how it typically plays out in my kitchen:
- Sheet Pan Veggies: I pull out the sheet pan, veggies, and I put the seasonings and oil in two small cups like these. Then, Bash does the rest! He gets parchment paper (Pro Tip: Use unbleached sheets so your child doesn’t have to tear from a roll) and places it onto the baking sheet. He rinses, dries, and chops or breaks the veggies, and spreads them on the sheet pan and oils/seasons. Then he pats them into an even layer onto the baking sheet. I'll preheat the oven to 400 degrees and by the time he's done, they are ready to go into the oven!
- Homemade Dressing: I measure out the oil, vinegar, seasonings, or any other additions into little cups. Bash adds all of the ingredients to a spouted bowl and whisks them together. Voila - homemade dressing!
- Cracking Eggs: When your next recipe calls for eggs, let your child practice cracking them. Bash cracks eggs into a bowl and fishes out any bits of shell that made its way into the bowl, too. They’ll never learn unless they try…and try, try again!
- Blender Bread: This is a weekly meal prep grain-free bread recipe that I have my boys help with. I place all of the measured ingredients out and Bash adds everything to the blender, caps it with a lid and presses blend. He scrapes down the sides with a spatula and continues to blend until smooth. He even gets the parchment paper for the bread pan and together, we line the pan and pour the batter into it.
- One Bowl Banana Bread or Muffins: We love making Heather's Famous Banana Bread recipe, and since it's just one bowl it is super easy to get your kids involved. Again, I have all the ingredients set out next to a big bowl and Bash adds the ingredients and whisks until combined. He grabs the parchment paper for the bread pan. Together, we line the pan and pour the batter into it. Alternatively, he’ll add muffin liners to a muffin pan and I’ll scoop in the batter right behind him.
To make the process a little easier, I've found some Fab 4 Kids accessories that will help you as you begin to spend more meaningful time in the kitchen with your kids.
Favorite Fab 4 Kids Items to Have on Hand:
- Hedley and Bennett Apron
- Franklin and Emily Tower or a more affordable Learning Tower
- Jovitec Kid-Safe Knives
- Cuisinart Set of 3 Mini Baking Tools
- Salad Spinners
- Smoothie cups
- Small silicone popsicle molds
- Wavy chopper
- Blunt-tip serrated knife (for older kids)
- Stasher bags
- Unbleached Parchment Paper pre-cut sheets
- Spouted bowl
- Stainless Steel Sauce Cups
Do you still feel like you need some support when it comes to the crossroads of food, health, and family? I’ve spent countless hours creating books, courses, and content to equip you for just that. I’m so passionate about helping as many parents as possible to create a culture of health within their family. Now that you are armed with the knowledge above and the resources below, it’s time to head to the kitchen with a few veggies and your child’s hand. And then… get cooking!
- Fab 4 Under 4 Parenting Course: My guide to raising balanced, empowered eaters. Set the foundation for lifelong health by providing critical nutrients and supporting blood sugar balance from the start.
- Fab 4 Smoothie Basics Course: I'll show you how to create a wellness ritual you love with endless flavor variations, bringing you balanced energy and immune system support that helps you reach your goals.
- Fab 4 Fundamentals Course: I break down the nutrition know-how you need to reach your health and wellness goals.
- Body Love: My Food Freedom program helps you set yourself up for success, eliminating cravings, mood swings, and other symptoms caused by food drama.
- Body Love Everyday: I give you an action plan to adopt the Fab Four lifestyle in the way that’s right for you.
- My Instagram: Get a behind the scenes look into my life as a mom as well as my favorite recipes, and everything in between.
- My blog: For all my favorite Fab 4 recipes, wellness advice, and more, learn how to live the Fab 4 lifestyle at home.
- Be Well By Kelly Protein Powder: A clean protein source to help you reach your daily protein intake goals and level up your Fab 4 smoothies, baked goods, or morning coffee!
Be well. xx