I can still remember spending time with my mom in the kitchen when I was a kid. She loves to cook, and she learned from her dad. Growing up, spending time in the kitchen together was a way to connect, even if I wasn’t helping. Talking about our days, me giving her the latest school gossip, or even her telling me family stories as she stirred and chopped.
Now that I’m a mom, I love doing the same with my son. Cooking with kids is great — not just for the emotional connection, but also for the ways it benefits them throughout life.
Molly Birnbaum, editor-in-chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids, knows the importance of cooking with kids. In an article for Time, she details the benefits of getting young kids in the kitchen. To Birnbaum, cooking is “a way to teach kids vital 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.”
That’s why I encourage my son to cook with me. When I’m not in a hurry, I invite him into the kitchen with me and give him tasks to keep him included in the process. Sometimes, I’ll set aside an hour to bake cookies, which is his favorite.
Despite the benefits, however, cooking with kids is definitely a test of one’s patience — for kids and adults. But that’s a skill we’re teaching them too. My kiddo’s favorite part of cooking is prepping for whatever we’re making. Before we begin cooking or baking, we line up everything we’re using to measure. Then we get out all of our ingredients.
Once we get going, it’s a team effort. Usually I will do the measuring — I love him, but I don’t love constantly wiping up spilled sugar and flour. I will explain to him things I’ve learned in my years of cooking. Like making sure you fluff up the flour before you scoop it out. Then, he gets to drop the ingredients into the bowl, a very important job (just ask him). As we go through the recipe, I show him what we need next.
“Measuring ingredients, scaling recipes up or down and rolling out dough to specific dimensions are frequent tasks in cooking or baking,” Birnbaum notes. “They also test the math skills of young chefs.”
Whenever we use a measuring cup or spoon, I tell him what it is. “This is one teaspoon of salt,” I’ll say, holding up the spoon for him. He will usually repeat what I’m saying to sound official, but I also know that it helps him process and remember the information. Recently when we were baking chocolate chip cookies, I got the measurements for the dry ingredients wrong. It was an easy fix, and we were able to apply his simple math skills to solve our problem. The order and rigidity of baking is good for younger kids, following a recipe gives them a clear order.
Carving out time to get in the kitchen with my boy is fun too. He excitedly drags his little stool up to the counter so he can reach everything with ease. When he successfully cracks an egg, his face lights up. If I don’t give him enough responsibility, he is disappointed. He’s a great sous chef, fetching a rag or putting things back when we’re finished. Now that he’s getting older, he is starting to understand the process of cooking and baking more.
Birnbaum makes another excellent point about cooking with kids — that even “failures” are valuable. “Recipe failures like this matter as much as the successes, as they help kids develop resilience,” she says.
Not too long ago, we tried a new recipe for oatmeal cookies. We wanted big cookies, so we scooped out slightly larger balls of dough. Unfortunately, we didn’t know how much the cookies would spread. So instead of having eight cookies, we had one big cookie.
“Oh no!” my kiddo cried, his face dropping.
“It’s okay! Now we know for next time to put less cookies on the cookie sheet,” I said, wiping his eyes.
There’s also another very important part of spending time with your kids in the kitchen. Beyond the practical skills they learn, cooking with kids is setting them up for a better future. My mom taught me how to cook because she knew eventually I’d move out, and I needed to be able to feed myself. Once I moved out for college, it was one thing she didn’t have to worry about. When I moved back home, she was able to relax even more. I love being in the kitchen, and was happy to take over.
I want my son to have an appreciation for food as he gets older. Even if he eats the same things now, he still sees me making different things for myself. Experimenting with flavors and trying new things is one of the best parts of cooking. Cooking with kids is opening up all kinds of new worlds for them, but it also brings a sense of comfort and home as well. Standing side by side in the kitchen with my kid reminds me of those days with my mom. We listen to music or I tell him stories. It’s a really special time for us, even when we’re both covered in flour and staring at a result we had not anticipated.
When he’s older and making a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I hope he remembers our days in the kitchen, dancing around as we measure out sugar. And I hope he still licks the beater, because that’s the very best part.