5 Kitchen jobs your kids can do

Jen Klein

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A dear friend of mine is known for her inability to cook. It was somewhat of a joke in college, but she has since used it to her advantage and her husband has become a veritable gourmet chef. I asked her once how it came to be that she did not cook. Was she not interested? Did something happen?

Mom and daughters cooking

It turns out my friend's mother was an amazing cook. She'd taken classes at culinary schools around the world and was a perfectionist in the kitchen. And that was the issue: Her mother was a perfectionist who found it easier to keep her kids out of the kitchen rather than show them what she was doing and let them participate. Huh.

Cooking with kids is fun. In fact, many kids love the kitchen. They love to see what their mom is doing and are fascinated by the chemistry in the bowl or pot. My friend was no exception. Wouldn't it be so much more fun to include them in the process? Instead of closing the kitchen door, invite your kids in and give them jobs. Not only will both of you have fun, but your kids' interest in food may very well translate to healthier eating habits!

Job 1: Setting up mis en place

Measuring and setting out all the ingredients for a recipe is good practice for all cooks — and kids love to help with this! From very young kids to older kids, there is a place in mis en place for all of them! Younger kids can help get out bowls, measuring cups and spoons. As the kids get older, they can measure items into prep bowls. The oldest of your kids can help with chopping. All of it develops math skills, fine motor skills and organizational skills.

Job 2: Pouring and dumping

One easy and rewarding job, especially for younger kids, is pouring and dumping ingredients into a recipe. You've set everything out as part of your mis en place so it's all ready to go! Let your child pour in the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar, and then let her watch how the consistency of the batter changes. Talk about how everything that is added affects the other ingredients in some way to eventually become the final product.

Job 3: Stirring, whisking, kneading and rolling

Slightly older kids love to get involved in the actual work of cooking. You may not quite be able to trust your 3-year-old with a whisk, but your 6-year-old can handle a wooden spoon, your 8-year-old who is frustrated with baseball practice can take his energy out on kneading bread and your 10-year-old would love to figure out how to get as many cookies into that rolled out dough as possible.

Job 4: Garnishing and decorating

Part of the appeal of a meal is presentation. And really, kids love to dress up everyday meals, special meals and treats! Keep a stash of lemon slices, parsley and other garnishing ingredients in the refrigerator and let your kids add flourish to the macaroni and cheese. Keep colored sugars on hand for cookies, cakes, biscuits or even Sunday muffins.

Job 5: Cleaning up

With all that preparation, adding, mixing and garnishing, there's sure to be a mess in the kitchen. Work together to clean it all up and give your kids simple tasks to contribute. Loading the dishwasher, setting a bowl to soak, wiping down the counter and sweeping the floor are all tasks kids can help with at just about all ages and stages. Sure, it may not be pristine sweeping if your kids are younger, but it's help and it's a start.

Kids have so much fun in the kitchen — so don’t keep them out. Involve your kids with specific kitchen jobs and watch their culinary interest and ability soar.

More on cooking with kids

Benefits of cooking with preschoolers
5 Ways to include kids in holiday cooking
Healthy dinner recipes the kids can make

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