Cooking With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

If you’ve been around the blog for for a while, you may know that I’m a self-professed terrible cook. I try. Oh, I try. But, at best, I have a handful of stand-by meals that I can cook well. Thankfully it’s enough to keep the family fed, although we certainly don’t have a very broad dinner menu. When I cook anything that isn’t very familiar, it’s a chore for me. I labor over the recipe and try diligently to do things exactly as written.

Because I struggle with cooking, I’ve always had a hard time cooking with my kids. But I want them to grow up knowing how to cook, so they don’t have the struggles I have had. So, despite the difficulties, I try to cook with the kids. Admittedly, I’m sometimes a nervous wreck when I let them help me in the kitchen. All of a sudden, I not only have to deal with the thought that I might mess up, I have to stand by and let them learn- sometimes by trial and error- and give up total control. It’s not easy. In fact, if you ask a particular child in my house who made pancakes totally on her own for the first time recently, you’ll learn just how crazy I can get cooking with my kids.

Cooking with kids

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I’ve learned some things over my sixteen years as a parent, thankfully. (I hope I’ve learned lots of things.) And I’ve been able to slowly let the kids cook with me- and now without me- more and more. Here are a few things I’ve found that help me maintain my sanity while cooking with the kids.

Choose what you cook wisely.

When I’m cooking with a younger child who is still looking to me often for help in understanding directions and following through, I need to choose recipes I’m actually good at. If I stick with a familiar recipe that I’ve made successfully before, I can relax and let the child do more. If I’m using a new recipe, I feel out of control, and I’m constantly taking over without meaning to or getting nervous when I see something they may do wrong.

Letting the above mentioned child cook pancakes was not really a great choice. For some reason, I’ve never been able to make good pancakes consistently. So trying to step back and let her try was very hard. I do much better with something like brownies or cookies or a pasta dish that’s simple for me to make. When I feel comfortable with the recipe, I’m much more calm.

Lay down ground rules.

Before we begin, I try to take some time to talk about what we’re cooking and how we’re going to go about it. This is especially important if two or more kids are helping at one time. That can quickly turn into squabbles about whose turn it is to do what. And the bickering makes me- already on edge- very frazzled. If I’m working with a younger child or more than one, I let them know exactly which steps they are going to be allowed to do. This helps things flow smoothly and curbs the craziness.

Set up before you begin.

Nothing creates panic and causes scrambling like being halfway through following a recipe and then realizing we’re out of milk or eggs or baking powder. There is a child who’s been looking forward to this cooking time all day and who is looking forward to yummy cookies at the end of it. We’re pulling out ingredients as we go. I’m trying to stay relaxed. And all of a sudden I reach for the sugar only to realize…we’re out! The child falls apart as the dream of chocolate chip cookies fades away. I look at the mix we already have together in the bowl. And chaos ensues.

I like to go through the recipe and pull out everything we need before we begin. I lay out all the ingredients we’ll need. I get out the bowls and pans we’ll need. I even lay out measuring cups and spoons. That way we have no nasty surprises in the middle of our cooking.

Be ready to roll with mistakes.

Making mistakes is part of cooking. I certainly make my fair share. Some of my craziness and anxiety over cooking with the kids can be alleviated when I just remember that and decide to roll with it. There are times when a child dumps in the wrong ingredient. There are times they are measuring out a teaspoon full of an ingredient and the box slips, pouring way more than needed right into the bowl. There are times when we finish putting it all together and I turn to look at the counter and realize an ingredient was left out. My natural reaction is NOT to remain calm and be patient. But I’ve tried to train my response so that I can breathe deep and put it in perspective. Sometimes we can salvage what’s left, and sometimes we have to dump the whole thing and start again. But having the right perspective helps me to avoid a breakdown and teaches the child that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Know when to get out of the way.

I like control. Have you noticed that theme here? Much of my nervousness over cooking with the kids is because I don’t like to feel out of control. But my kids need space to grow and learn. Micromanaging them constantly might make me feel better, but it doesn’t teach them independence. In cooking, as in so much of life, I’ve had to realize when it’s just time for me to get out of the way. When I know that a child has learned enough about reading a recipe and finding and using ingredients, I just need to step aside and let him cook.

Remember the child with the pancakes I mentioned above? I finally stepped out of the way. She’s old enough to use the stove safely. She’s experienced in reading and following recipes. Yes, it made me nervous. But I moved out of the way and let her work. And she was pretty successful. There were some pancakes that were a little more “well done,” but, on the whole, I couldn’t really complain. Having kids who are old enough to cook without me is a blessing now. And when I sit down to eat fresh, gooey chocolate chip cookies that were made entirely by my child with no help from me, it makes all that craziness of cooking with kids worth it.

Cooking with kids

Do you enjoy cooking with your kids? How do you alleviate the craziness? I’d love to hear your ideas!


If you’ve been thinking of teaching your kids to cook, but it seems a daunting task, Katie at Kitchen Stewardship has created the perfect course for you and your kids. Kids Cook Real Food will help your kids learn about good nutrition and making their way around the kitchen.

The Kids Cook Real Food course has lessons with 3 different levels- covering ages 2-teens. If you’re wanting to get your kids in the kitchen without losing your mind, this is a great way!

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