15 Ways to Get Kids in the Kitchen This Weekend

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.)

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.

Letting Kids Help With: Corn

I'm told my son eats corn when it's on the menu at his daycare. But I'm admittedly a little bit of a vegetable snob. So, I figured if he likes canned corn, wouldn't he love fresh corn on the cob ... grilled? I mean, does it get any better?

Then, I figured he should help.

Watching a toddler try to shuck corn is pretty awesome.

"Helping" with corn ... until they're old enough to help with corn.

"Helping" with corn ... until they're old enough to help with corn.

As kiddos get older, they'll be more helpful. But until they're helpful, they can be distracted and occupied while you make the rest of the meal. We call this a win-win.

Letting Kids Help With: Salad

If you were hoping that this would be about tips to get kiddos to eat salad, you are mistaken. And I'm sorry about that.

But even if they might not eat salad, they can still help make it. And, well, that's a start.

Tonight, I made a quinoa salad, and as I chopped the veggies, I put them in a small bowl and invited my almost-21-month-old to dump them into the salad bowl. He found this quite entertaining.

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It was also an opportunity for him to taste the veggies as they went in. (He likes capers, we learned!)

If you are looking for other ways to involve kiddos in a salad, here are a few ideas:

  • Chopping. As kiddos get older, they can use safety knives to cut veggies. Or you can put veggies into a small food processor and let them push the "chop" button.
  • Choosing. Salads come in all shapes and sizes. Invite your kiddo to pick the veggies (if you don't have our allergy concerns, cheese and nuts!).
  • Go bar. Kids love salad bars because it represents choice. As they get older, there's no reason they can't have a choice in building their own salad.

Letting Kids Help With: Cookies

Cookies! What kid doesn't love cookies? And they just don't get better than homemade. (Sorry, Girl Scouts.) Last weekend, I came across some canned pumpkin leftover from the fall, so I decided to whip up some pumpkin oatmeal cookies, which my boy loves. A couple of simple substitutes makes them compatible with his allergies and doesn't affect the taste (check out the recipe).

There are a few easy ways to involve kiddos in the process:

  • Measuring and counting. When I've baked with my nieces and nephew at the holidays, I've taken the opportunity to work on math skills. Measuring, counting, cutting recipes in half (or — who are we kidding? — doubling recipes) is great when kids get older.
  • Turning on the mixer. When she was about 3 or 4, my oldest niece always loved flipping the switch on my standing mixer.
  • Dropping the cookies. As they get older, kiddos can help roll dough into balls, they'll love decorating cookies. For simple drop cookies, older kids (with stronger hands) could do this too. (I like using a small cookie scoop to make it easy.) But my little toddler struggled with dropping the cookies entirely on his own, so helped in two ways: Spooning the dough onto the cookie sheet from a spoon I held:
Hold the dough on one spoon, and let your kiddo spoon it onto the baking sheet.

Hold the dough on one spoon, and let your kiddo spoon it onto the baking sheet.

And telling me where the next cookie should go:

Toddlers like to be in charge. They can help by directing where you drop the next cookie.

Toddlers like to be in charge. They can help by directing where you drop the next cookie.


Letting Kids Help With: Herbs

As the weather warms, I start craving lighter foods — simple salads and side dishes, for example. And there's just nothing better to brighten up those flavors than fresh herbs. One of my favorites is basil.

The other night, I did a simple tomato salad — sliced tomatoes with basil on, then sprinkled with some kosher salt, ground black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

The kiddo was not impressed with this dish. BUT he did love helping. First, he loved smelling the basil (I bought a plant rather than pre-cut). And he loved ripping the leaves off the plant. I ask you: Could there be any more perfect task for a toddler?

The basil never stood a chance.

And a couple days later, we had some gardening fun and planted the basil in a small pot in the back yard — another great project to involve the kiddos in.

Letting Kids Help With: Pasta

If you saw my meals, you'd know immediately that I'm no professional chef. I break rules because I don't they are rules. But some rules I break because I just don't care.

For example, I know that you're not supposed to break pasta before you put it in the water. Still, I don't want to get out my giant stock pot for a simple weeknight linguine. So, yeah, I'm going to break the pasta in half. Better yet? Get the kiddo to do it!

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Letting Kids Help With: Citrus

I love fresh citrus juice — lime and lemon in particular — in various recipes. They add fresh flavor to marinades, dressings and sauces.

Now, I have a new reason to love citrus: Juicing the citrus is a fabulous way to involve the kiddo in cooking. Mine is still too young to have the strength (or accuracy) to be left to his own devices to juice a lemon. But with some mama supervision, he has a fantastic time. I presume as he gets older, he'll be able to be progressively more helpful.

Have the Kiddo Pick the Veggie

You've probably seen this tip before, and I'm here to tell you a couple things about letting kids pick the veggie:

  1. Even at 20 months of age, it gives them a sense of empowerment — and sends a message that their opinion matters. (My son's verbal abilities are developing, but one thing I believe I can still communicate is respect for each family member's opinions.)
  2. It doesn't guarantee that they'll try the darn thing. And even though this is sooo frustrating, it's still OK.

In this particular showdown, my kiddo picked mushrooms. Anything not-green always wins, by the way.