Eat Well, Spend Less: Letting Kids Cook

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Including your kids in the kitchen is a great way to teach them life skills and, eventually, save money. Eat well, spend less, and let the kids cook!

As we all know cooking and eating at home is typically healthier, tastier, and often more economical than processed or restaurant fare. And if there’s more than one home cook in the house, chances are there’s always someone available to cook up the night’s dinner. Someone besides the Colonel, that is.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to teach my boys to become more independent in the kitchen. That, my friends, is easier said than done. Not because they aren’t capable. But, because I’m a control freak.

I didn’t realize how much this was true until the last month or so when I started checking myself before I grabbed the tongs, spatula, or spoon away from the child working in the kitchen. I had no idea I was doing this previously. But, I must have been. All of a sudden I found that I was stopping myself from interfering.

And the result?

  1. My seven-year old started cooking the pancakes on the griddle and flipping them with gusto. He begs for pancakes every morning so that he can make them.
  2. My nine-year old portioned a bulk bag of cheese into perfect one-pound portions to store in the freezer and now regularly mixes the bread dough.
  3. My eleven-year old mixed up the dough for hot dog buns and tested a recipe for stuffed crust pizza.
  4. My fourteen-year old baked a batch of Chocolate Minty Melts while I was out of the house and figured out his own substitutions when he saw we didn’t have any chocolate kisses.

Who knew?

Apparently, I did not. Because I would not previously have asked anyone of them to pull off the aforementioned feats alone or with limited supervision. But, once I put the blinders on (myself) and walked away, they did great. And now I know that I can cut them lose on a lot more cooking tasks.

Now, I wonder what ELSE they are capable of!

My kids have been cooking with me or hubs in the kitchen since each one was big enough to climb on a chair. But, I’ve been reticent to just release the reins and let one of them drive the chuck wagon.

The entire process has been such a lesson to me. My kids are capable of far more than I expect them to be, especially where food is concerned. While hubs and I were gone on date night, my eleven-year old even tried his hand at food photography!

It’s one thing to set a good example, but it’s another to teach — and to let go. I think I’ve worked at the first two, but have failed at the last.

And yet, how did I learn? I just messed in the kitchen, and my mom let me. (Thanks, Mom!) I started copying down recipes as soon as I could write, attempted (and failed) to make fudge when I was seven, and had perfected lemon meringue pie by ten. But, my mom really didn’t have to do much — except maybe clean up after me.

She cut me lose. And then I just did it.

What am I afraid of?

Why haven’t I been looser with my control of the kitchen? I have no idea, really. I hate to clean, that would be one thing. I fear wasted ingredients. But, let’s look at the ultimate fruit:

I can do something else while my kids do the cooking! 

It’s an amazing thought, really. And then because I’m the mom, I can make them clean up the mess. Goodness, what have I been waiting for?

I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m sure excited to see where this goes. As I type this, one of my sons is crafting birthday cake toppers for his brother’s big day while the cake their sister and I made is cooling on the counter.

I can’t wait to see where this goes!

This post is part of an ongoing series about how to eat well and spend less. Along with some fabulous foodies, organizers, and frugalistas, I’ve been bringing you suggestions on how to eat like a king without becoming a pauper to do it.

This month we’re sharing tips and tricks for including kids in your kitchen routine. Be sure to check out what the other ladies are sharing this week or browse their archives:

How do YOU include your kids in the kitchen?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Sigh. I need to give my kids a little more space in the kitchen, but I’m stuck in the control freak zone! Thanks for the encouragement. It’s still early as I type this; my kids would probably LOVE to try their hands at (GF) pancakes this morning!

  2. I’m a big advocate of kids in the kitchen. My oldest (14) is our resident baker. He makes the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted, from scratch (only real butter in the crust – he eschews Crisco!). He bakes bread, and the 11 year old and 9 year old like to cook eggs, french toast, quesadillas, bacon, etc. I often grab one of them and have them help me out with dinner. I love how independent they are in the kitchen 🙂

    • The recipe my aunts and grandma gave me for their pie crust was with Crisco, so that’s what I used (years ago), then one time tried butter and didn’t really notice a difference. It was when I tried Crisco again that I saw how much trouble I had rolling out the dough. Now it’s butter for the health reasons, but it just strikes a chord with me that the REAL food is easier to work with! Congrats to you and your son, BTW.

  3. Ah, yes, I had to learn to get out of the kitchen too. Years ago.

    I’ve often told people this is among the hardest things I’ve learned as a mommy: just to walk away and leave the kids alone in the kitchen. Now all my kids cook and do a great job.

    But I’m still relearning that lesson about getting out of the kitchen. Here’s my latest experience:

  4. Oh my, I can relate. I have a Girl Scout troop of fourth graders, and when I asked at our last camping trip who could scramble eggs, I was kinda surprised that all of the girls I had in the kitchen with me raised their hands. My own daughter has not really been allowed to be on the stove that much, and these girls were ready to be let loose with only cursory supervision. That was when I decided that this summer my daughter would be truly taught to cook. She is ready to learn. One night when I jokingly asked her to make dinner, she started pulling out food and reading packages of pasta to figure out how to cook them. 🙂 It is really hard to let go . . .

  5. Laura says

    My 20 year old daughter lives off campus at college. She took a bunch of our “family” recipes with her to school and told me after several months that she really enjoys cooking – it makes her feel capable of being on her own. Who new such a simple thing could help her adjust to being away!?

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience and encouraging me to be more willing to let go too. I definitely need it, LOL!

  7. That’s my goal this year…my 3 older boys are perfectly capable…I just haven’t really taken the time to show them the little things. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Cheri A says

    This is something that I definitely need to do. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. My girls (8 and 9) love to help in the kitchen. I usually let them do lunch, since it’s a fairly easy meal and is a nice break for me in the middle of the day.
    This summer I hope to get them more trained in on the supper meals.

  10. Love this post, Jessica! I, too, am a control freak in the kitchen and having kids cook brings out the worst of that in me. My solution is to usually just walk away and let them do their thing – like you said, you never know what they can do until you let them try!

    We don’t do a lot of mixes but I really enjoy having a few simple boxed foods (pudding and cornbread, recently) on hand that I can hand to my six year old and say “follow the directions and fix it”. He LOVES being able to do it all on his own!

  11. I’m with you – my kids cook with me all the time, but I haven’t let them go off on their own. If your seven year old can flip pancakes, I’m sure my eight year old can too – I just need to take a deep breath and let her fly!

  12. My kids are young – 4 and 2 – so “helping” right now totally equates to “messing.” I’m not opposed to letting them “help,” especially since I’m not completely clean when I cook. I do the super messy things – flour, sugar, etc. – and have them count the scoops (to help with math skills). They get to do the bigger things (chocolate chips, pasta into water, etc.) and they feel so satisfied when they get to do it. While I do most of the cleaning, I’ve been having them to the bigger items (putting boxes into the recycle bin, egg shells into the trash, etc.) so they understand the concept of cleaning AND cooking.

  13. Sarah says

    Thank you for teaching your sons to cook! My husband is a great cook and I am the beneficiary of his skills.

  14. Deborah says

    Jessica, your post was in perfect synch with me today! My seven year old son and I cook together often, often making recipes that you feature here and at Good Cheap Eats. Over the weekend I was shopping with my son and teaching him how to read the labels in the meat department. He set off major laughter among those standing in the meat section when when he picked up a package of beef and pronounced that he would like to cook it “until it was medium rare” for dinner. Inspired by his interest, I bought the package and we discussed what else to serve with it for dinner. Last night I let him cook the meat he had chosen, simply on the stove, while I got the rest of his meal together. It was perfect (though definitely NOT medium rare)! And he had the great sense of accomplishment of planning and executing a main course all on his own. Kids amaze us when we let them show us what they can accomplish, aren’t they?

  15. Due to a pneumonia scare I had a year ago after baby #6, my husband had to take over my morning duties with the kids (10 y.o. and younger) for a few weeks, and guess what? They learned to fix their own breakfasts, and make their own lunches for school. That way, he could sleep in later while he was working from home (such a guy way of taking over the morning duty).

    I can totally relate to your story about letting go of control in the kitchen. My biggest fear is that they will either burn themselves, burn each other, or burn the house down (hmmm, I see a recurring theme there).

    Thanks for the reminder to let them have some fun in the kitchen!

  16. My parents said if we cooked we also had to clean up. (“Good cooks clean up after themselves,” is my mother’s stock phrase.) So my sister would bargain with me to cook something and she would clean.

  17. Hattie says

    Yum, chocolate minty melts! What a handy 14 year old to have around the house!:)

    Got a good recipe for lemon meringue pie?

    My hubby wants to try one lemon meringue for his birthday dessert next month. He’s not doing the cake thing because his birthday is the tail end of a 9 day stretch that begins with our daughter’s birthday, includes our son’s birthday 2 days later, and ends up with hubby’s birthday 6 days after that.

    So, we’ll be full-up on cake by the time hubby’s birthday rolls around. A Tangled cake and a knight cake, to be precise.:)

  18. I love that your little one grabbed the camera and tried food photography!

    Great post and I’m so glad kids in the kitchen is working out well for you.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Yeah, it’s my 11yo. He’s always been pretty techy, so I’m thinking of getting him more involved in the pictures. I could use the help — esp if he gets better than me.

  19. Heidi says

    I quietly slip into the other room when my just turned 11 year old asks to bake a cake or cookies…….I say “Sure!……I’ll be in here on the couch or upstairs if you have any questions.” I found I was was too “involved” when she wanted to cook….it was just easier and better on my blood pressure if I was near by but not right there! Everything she makes turns out great! It’s getting easier to let her go!! Loved your post! thanks 🙂

  20. I can be such a control freak in the kitchen. Thanks for posting. It is a friendly reminder that I need to take a chill pill and not obsess over perfection or messes. Thanks again!

  21. I was doing pretty good at letting my then 5 year old do things in the kitchen, then for some unknown reason we stopped. He was cooking oatmeal and noodles (not together and with my supervision) on his own. He really wants to be able to crack eggs, so I need to let him practice. I think he’d like making pancakes too, and having to find the right measuring tools is a good math lesson!

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