My secret to outwitting picky eaters - let them help you cook. Kids are more likely to a least try something they helped prepare. Most often, they can't say enough about its superb culinary qualities.
Basic cooking skills are some of the best things you can give your kids before sending them off into the world. Knowing how to cook gives them a sense of confidence, nutrition and gratitude for food. (It also makes them popular with the opposite sex.)
Besides turning your child into a chef extraordinaire, letting them help in the kitchen is a great opportunity to give your kids some one-on-one attention.
Choose a sous chef
Having four kids in the kitchen doesn't work for mom's sanity, sibling harmony or the integrity of the recipe. Everyone wants to help with cookies and no one wants to help with meatloaf. To stop the whining in my kitchen, I created the sous chef position. A sous chef is the second in command in a professional kitchen. When I cook, only the sous chef is allowed to help. I have a chart on the fridge that keeps track of who is my sous chef at any given time. After one child takes a turn, the chart is rotated and remains in place until the next kid takes his turn. This has helped solve arguments about who's turn it is to help and to make sure my kids are helping with a variety of dishes.
Set ground rules
When working with kids in the kitchen, it's important to set some ground rules. Remind your child of the ground rules before you start. Failure to follow the rules means you'll be fired as sous chef for the day. My number one rule is, "Don't put anything in the bowl until Mom gives the go-ahead."
Make it easy
Most kids don't have long attention spans in (or out of) the kitchen. If your child is going to help you cook, choose an easy recipe. If your child has a favorite desert or dish, let them learn how to make it. Avoid recipes with too many steps or a lot of complex processes kids can't really help with. Kids are good at stirring, measuring, breading, dipping, shaping and spreading. Supervise kids closely if they will be using the stove. As your kids get older and more experienced, let them try harder recipes or help with more of the steps. Find something for to do at your child's level to keep her interest. My 13-year-old makes some dishes by herself, while my 5-year-old mainly dumps ingredients into the bowl and stirs.
Don't be afraid to say, "Not today."
You want your kids to have a good experience in the kitchen. If you're rushed, trying a new recipe or just plain crabby - say no to kitchen helpers. You don't need to have a sous chef every day. Even time spent once a week or once a month in the kitchen will help your kids gain valuable skills over time.
Brag about it
Whether taking a dish to a party or just setting it in front of the family for dinner, always give your sous chef his kudos. Sharing an accomplishment with others helps give kids a true sense of self-esteem. This also reminds other family members that hard work goes into creating a meal and gives them a chance to acknowledge and express thanks for that effort.
Cooking is a life-long skill and your kids will cherish the dishes and memories you make in the kitchen together for a long time to come. For more fun in the kitchen, click here and for five ways dessert can bring your family closer, click here.