If you’re a parent, you probably find yourself with little ones underfoot several times a week while making dinner. Whether you’re making spaghetti or grilled cheese, kids love to help. Unfortunately, sometimes it isn’t feasible to have little hands stirring the Alfredo sauce or helping you chop the onions; either because the job is too messy or dangerous, or you’re just too tired to accomplish things efficiently.
Luckily, there are ways you can accommodate your child’s need to “cook” his own meal without having to deal with the mess, heat, and power struggles that often cause problems.
Designate a special place where your child can cook. This can be a small table in the corner with a matching chair, or a specific stool at the bar. Let your child know that this area is his area. All other parts of the kitchen are off limits unless you give special permission. With his culinary creations being limited to a set space, you can (hopefully) cut down on the overall mess and avoid opening the oven door as a pair of tiny hands reach over.
Teach your child proper kitchen safety rules BEFORE you begin cooking. This obviously means instructing him to avoid the oven when it’s turned on unless you are there to supervise, but also on the proper method for holding pot holders and using oven mitts. Show him how to pull out the oven racks using mitts. Also, make sure he knows never to run with sharp utensils (Not that you will be letting him anywhere near the knives but it’s best to be prepared early on), as well as the proper way to handle peelers and other items when he’s old enough!
For very small children, set up a play area in or close by the kitchen so he or she can help you safely. This can include things like toy food, play kitchens, pretend pots and pans, and other fun props. This will allow your child to participate without the risk of injury or sticky messes. A great option for kitchen play is the Bake & Decorate Cupcake Set by Melissa & Doug. It comes with toy cupcakes that wipe clean after each use, as well as dry erase markers that allow children to create and re-create new treats every time. By allow kids to actually create something right along with you, it will give them a sense of accomplishment just like if they were baking REAL cupcakes with you.
Be willing to get messy every now and then. You can’t avoid the occasional spill or scattered cereal, so it’s best to anticipate these things ahead of time. This will not only allow you to keep anger and frustration at bay when messes DO occur, you will already have a plan in mind for cleaning them up. And don’t forget sometimes a good old fashioned food fight is just what the doctor ordered.