Parenting

Kids in the kitchen: 6 tips from a stay-at-home mom

Jennifer urges to you recycle your plastic play food and really get your kids cooking.

Gillian helps out with the dinner preparation.

Growing up on a farm, then working in the agriculture industry for a number of years, I have a closer connection to my food than most Canadians. Now living in a small farming community, I’m lucky enough to know the people that grow the food that feeds my family. And, as a stay-at-home mom, the kitchen is where I spend most of my day — and if I’m not cooking, I’m cleaning. If I’m in the kitchen, that’s also where my children end up too. As soon as they were old enough, I had my kids pitch in. Here’s how I got my kids cooking (and kept my sanity).
 
Give them real food to play with
We’ve never had plastic play food in our house. Instead, when the kids wanted to play tea party or pizza parlour, we made a real pot of tea or mixed up pizza dough. Children can easily fill kettles and knead dough. Proofing yeast and watching dough rise is one of the kitchen’s best science experiments!
 
Embrace the mess
Baking and cooking with children is messy. Recently I spent a day batch cooking with Gillian at my side and, by the end of of the day, vegetables scraps and caked-on banana batter could be found on every surface in the house. It absolutely drives me crazy, but I’ll choose a fun day in the kitchen with my children over a spotless house. 
 
Let them play with knives
Most soft fruits and vegetables can be sliced with a butterknife. I improvised yesterday and gave my daughter a pizza cutter to help me dice onions, celery and carrots for dinner. During supper Gillian proudly told everyone how she helped make supper.
 
Cracking eggs
At two-and-a-half, Gillian cracks eggs better than most adults I know. That’s because it’s the first task I give her when we are in the kitchen. Unless you need your yolks and whites separated, there is no harm in letting your toddler get cracking. Egg shells in a cupcake or scrambled instead of sunny-side eggs up never hurt anyone!
 
Talk about where meat comes from
For some families, talking about how chicken nuggets are made is trickier than telling their kiddos where babies come from. We’ve never shied away from telling our kids that most of their meal used to have a face or feathers. Our sensitive five-year-old son was turned off by hamburgers for the longest time because of this, but explaining that farmers work hard to raise animals that are healthy and happy so that his food tastes great and helps him grow strong muscles helped.
 
Support Canadian farmers and shop close to home
A simple analogy — using family road trips as an example — helped our children understand why we buy food grown in Canada. Start by asking your kids how they feel after sitting in a car for hours — I’ll bet they’ll tell you that they feel yucky and their legs and butt hurt. Now tell them to imagine they are a raspberry, apple or cob of corn and are sitting in the back of a truck without their comfy car seat (we had our kids act out different fruits and vegetables for good measure) and ask them how they think their favourite foods must feel after being bounced around for a long time. We’ve also used maps to draw lines from the farm around the corner to our house and compared it to the length of a line drawn from across the world to our house. Even simply doing a blind taste test comparing a summer berry shipped thousands of miles compared to the one picked at the local berry patch is enough for them to make the connection that food grown close to home just tastes better.
 
What is your child’s favourite kitchen duty?