Cooking with kids is a bit like parenting overall: you’re going to need a lot of patience and some creativity, and you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out. Plus, it’s a learning and growing experience — for all concerned.
“If you’re cooking with kids,” says Jessica Battilana, cookbook author and staff editor with King Arthur Baking, “you just have to expect and plan for it to take longer, be messier and more chaotic, and possibly have an outcome that’s different than it would be if you were cooking alone.”
Set new bakers up for success by doing a bit of advance preparation — tasks like laying out ingredients, preheating the oven, or getting your bowls and kitchen tools ready. Battilana then recommends bringing kids in at the “action point,” where they can actively help by chopping or measuring or maybe sneaking a few chocolate chips.
For Melissa Jameson, deputy editorial director at Buzzfeed, breakfast is a good place to start because it’s inexpensive (important if you need to remake a recipe) and there’s “plenty of kid-friendly starter tasks like whisking batter, cracking eggs or layering a yogurt parfait.”
She recommends considering copycat recipes — where you try to remake a dish at home from a restaurant. For Jameson’s six-year-old son, that was Starbucks’ egg bites, easy to recreate with eggs baked in muffin tins.
“Not only is it fun to recreate something you love,” says Jameson, who oversees the food and cooking content for Buzzfeed and Tasty, “but it’s also valuable to teach that we can do it ourselves. Plus, kids are nearly guaranteed to devour the end result.”
The journey to the kitchen could even begin in your living room watching kids’ cooking shows like MasterChef Junior or Is It Cake? as a way to inspire budding young chefs. But don’t jump immediately into the most complicated cakes or dinners. Instead, Jameson suggests smaller tasks like mashing avocados, blending a smoothie or assembling the toppings on an English muffin pizza.
“Cooking and baking together is about being together,” adds Battilana. “The food you make, or you know, later have to compost, is just the cherry on top.”
The food editors we spoke with picked out these 10 useful tools to help get your kids started in the kitchen.
Give kids a leg up with the Guidecraft Classic Kitchen Helper Stool. It has an adjustable platform (either 15 inches or 18 inches off the ground) and folds up so it can be stored when it’s not in use.
“Get [kids] on your level so they can fully see, touch and feel like they’re a part of the process,” says Jameson. A helper stool (sometimes called a toddler tower) lets toddlers reach a counter, with guards to keep them from falling before they’re ready to use a step stool or are tall enough to stand on the floor.
Let your kids decide what they want to make with My First Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen Kids. The hardcover book (note: easier to wipe off spills) with more than 60 recipes breaks snacks and meals into steps with clear photos and directions. Jameson appreciates the “approachable, kid-friendly recipes,” because “each one is photographed in an eye-catching, step-by-step way so smaller cooks can visually follow along — or even flip through on their own to find their next project.”
With non-skid bases and wide pour spouts, the OXO Good Grips Mixing Bowl Set deserves a spot in your kitchen drawers. With sizes ranging from 1.5-quart to 5-quart, you and your helper can whip up a little bit of whipped cream or a family-size batch of pancakes. The small bowl is easier for smaller hands to grip while the big bowl can hold popcorn on movie night.
The Lamson Stainless Steel Dough Scraper is a baker’s friend, functioning as a knife and cleaning tool. With a walnut handle that’s easy to hold and a wide blade (that’s less sharp than the other knives in your drawer), it’s also a great tool for kids. Battilana notes that “bench knives are great for a whole variety of tasks, from transferring ingredients to a bowl, to cutting biscuits or scones, to cleaning your work surface.”
The Ateco Offset Spatula is a must-have if you’re going to venture into the word of decorating cakes. The rounded, nearly 8-inch blade helps create even edges and smooth icing, while the narrow wooden handle fits in a child’s grip. It also can be used to spread jelly on sandwiches, lather cream cheese on bagels at brunch, and flip tofu on a baking sheet.
Battilana recommends the Opinel Le Petit Chef set because she believes in giving kids “real tools for real jobs.” The knife with a rounded tip and the y-shaped peeler, with guards that fit around a single finger, have beechwood handles designed for a kid’s hand. The included finger guard is a great way to show kids proper technique while protecting their hands.
“It’s wonderful because the knife and finger guard and peeler are scaled for small hands, but in every way it’s similar to the knife I use,” adds Battilana.
The bright colors of the silicone baking cups from OXO will appeal to kids and Jameson likes them because the “grip tabs on each make them easy for kids’ hands to maneuver.” She uses them for muffins, cupcakes and egg bites. The non-stick cups are reusable, turn inside out for quick cleaning, and have a fill line to ensure your cupcakes are even.
Kids can roll out dough, chop vegetables, and taste soup with the JK Adams Children’s Baking Set. Battilina recommends this set, which comes with a maple rolling pin, cutting board and spoon. By giving your kids a dedicated collection of their own tools, you can teach them about how to prep, cook and clean up after dinner.
The Ove Glove Oven Mitt is how you can get your kids comfortable with handling hot pans out of the oven and boiling pots of water on the stove. The kevlar glove can be used as an adult’s grill gloves, but can also be used by kids in the kitchen, as the silicon grips and articulated fingers work better for smaller hands than a standard oven mitt. The gloves are rated to handle heated pans up to 540 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Zulay Milk Frother is an inexpensive dynamo. While it can be used to add body and lightness to an afternoon chai latte, it’s also an easy way to whip up a personal batch of whipped cream for a treat after dinner. With a wide range of colors and simple operation (you depress a button at the top of the frother), this is a nifty little tool that kids will enjoy using.