5 Tips from the Step Stool Chef for Happier Cooking with Kids

Toria Frederick — the fabulous mama of the amazing Julian, who together are behind the Step Stool Chef — offers some great advice for all of us to keep in mind.

“Part of what I’m trying to do is make cooking more approachable,” she says. Yes, please! She also has ideas to help make it less stressful for us parents.

Letting Kids Help With: Christmas Cookies

Christmas baking and kids might sound like an easy combination — I mean, c'mon, it's Christmas! And who likes cookies more than kids, right?!

But it's also sugar and flour and frosting EVERYWHERE, and you can kiss those perfectly iced sugar cookies goodbye (at least for a while). It's time to say hello to blue pine trees and red snowmen, people.

Letting Kids Help With: Banana Bread

Recently, I discovered a great banana bread mix — no eggs, no dairy. All I needed to add were the overripe bananas, oil and water. For a toddler with a short attention span, this was a great cooking project. And he was excited to help. 

Here are a few ideas for letting kiddos help with banana bread (whether you're cheating with a mix like us or baking from scratch).

Letting Kids Help With: Grilling

If kids aren't ready to man the grill just yet, there are other ways to involve them.

If kids aren't ready to man the grill just yet, there are other ways to involve them.

Several months ago, we entered this lovely phase with my son wherein he doesn’t want to be out of Mama’s arms. Most times, Daddy was there. Daddy was willing to play with him or hold him. Whatever he wanted, Daddy would’ve done. But he wanted Mama. He wanted to be in on the cooking action, and that meant in my arms.

While cooking — ya know, with flames and knives — this concerned me. (See how good of a mom I am?) Enter the toddler stand as one way we dealt with this. But grilling is a different challenge. You’re inside and outside, in and out. For a while, the weather was nice enough that my son could just follow me in and out. He could see what I was doing from a safe distance and then go play outside.

But for several weeks now in Phoenix, it’s just been way too hot. I don’t want to linger by the grill. And I don’t want my fair-skinned, blond child out there either. Never mind that with the copious amounts of olive oil that I use that there are frequent flare-ups on the grill, so I really don’t want him in my arms while I manage the flame either.

That said, I love to grill — because being outside stinks, but heating up the whole house with the oven isn’t a great option either. So, if you believe in involving kiddos in the kitchen, how do you get them involved in grilling?

There are a few simple ways:

  • Bring them along as you ignite the grill. As my then-1-year-old said when he saw the fire light up beneath the grates, “More! More!”
  • Let them make marinades. My son frequently pours ingredients and stirs the marinade for our chicken and/or veggies.
  • Let them prepare skewers. At the moment, I wouldn’t dare let my child near a skewer. (#goodmom) But as kids get older, stringing veggies on a skewer is good fun for them (and frankly, tedious meal prep you might prefer to avoid yourself).
  • Invite them to season veggies. My son loves sprinkling (scratch that, dumping) salt, pepper and spices on our veggies.
  • Let them wrap foil packets. If you’re doing corn or asparagus or anything else in a foil packet, let your kiddo wrap it up.
  • Ask them to watch the timer. Need someone to tell you when to turn the meat or pull something off the grill? Assign it to a kiddo who needs a task.

15 Ways to Get Kids in the Kitchen This Weekend

Weeknight cooking is a bear, am I right? You’re trying to get a halfway-decent, halfway-healthy meal on the table in record time as you decompress from your workday before it’s time to dunk the kids in the bath, read a little Dr. Seuss and Goodnight, Moon and put the kids to bed. So, if you’re able to involve kiddos in the kitchen during the week, it’s kind of a miracle.

But the weekends — in theory, anyway — allow for a bit more relaxed meal prep.

But the weekends — in theory, anyway — allow for a bit more relaxed meal prep. Not to mention you might be making breakfasts or lunches in addition to dinners. As you think about your weekend meals, give some thought to a few ways you could involve your kiddos and let them be a part of the process. (And guess what: It can be easy! It really doesn't take much for them to feel like they helped.)

Time in the kitchen is a chance to bond with your kids, let them be creative and teach skills that will last a lifetime. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Time in the kitchen is a chance to bond with your kids, let them be creative and teach skills that will last a lifetime. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Here are 15 ways to get your started:

  1. Meal planning. At dinner Friday night, throw out some options for meals and let the kiddo have a vote.
  2. Grocery shopping. Take your kiddo to the store with you on Saturday morning. Let her pick a veggie or fruit. Let her check the eggs for cracks. Invite him to look for expiration dates.
  3. Stirring. My almost-2-year-old can’t get enough of stirring. Salad dressings, marinades, pancake batter. Give him a whisk and a bowl of liquid, and he’s a happy little dude.
  4. Spicing. My kiddo is also a big fan of adding the spices. He shakes (er, pours) salt and other spices onto veggies and into marinades.
  5. Measuring. If you’re sticking to a recipe (or baking!), you’ll be busting out the measuring cups and spoons. Invite the kiddos to measure and pour. For younger kids, you can measure, and they can pour.
  6. Pushing buttons. Even the littlest of sous chefs like to turn on the mixer or food processor.
  7. Shucking and peeling. Even without a knife, kiddos can shuck corn or peel garlic. With older kids, hand ‘em a peeler and potato and put ‘em to work.
  8. Juicing. Older, stronger kids can help squeeze the juice out of citrus. Littler ones can "help" you.
  9. Timing. Let them set the egg timer (or count as high as they can!).
  10. Rolling. If you make anything with a dough, hand over the rolling pin and let the kiddo take a shot.
  11. Tearing. From tearing lettuce for a salad to pulling herb leaves off the stems, this knife-free activity is a good one for little helpers.
  12. Shaking. Coating fish bites with a crust or chicken with a marinade? Throw everything in a freezer bag and let the kiddo shake it up.
  13. Pounding. Tenderizing meat? Who doesn’t want their shot with a mallet?
  14. Plating. Let kids have some creative fun and join in on the plating. Not just setting the table, but actually putting the food on the plate. Maybe they can help shake some powdered sugar over the French toast or add a sprig of rosemary to the main course.
  15. Tasting. If your kiddo isn’t exactly digging cooking, that’s OK. To each his own, right? But what about tasting as you cook? This way, they get to be involved and give input and learn a little bit about the trial-and-error process that is cooking.

Letting Kids Help With : Gardening

Letting Kids Help With : Gardening

To be able to grow some of that food in our own backyard is a long-held goal. I see pictures of people in their gardens, and I think: Yes, I want that to be us.  ... I didn't have an abundance of free time to build the full garden (oh, and to LEARN HOW TO GARDEN), but I did want to try something. So, my son and I planted (OK, fine, transplanted) three herbs in containers plus one jalapeño plant.