How To Get Kids Cooking

I get questions all the time about how I have taught Laurel and Violet to cook. And while I have written about cake baking with kids (and lots of other cake recipes...clearly, it is my very favorite dessert), I haven’t written about how to get kids to cook in my classic way—including the bigger picture as well as the tactical ways to make it happen. I’m thrilled to do so today, inspired by a partnership with America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ Young Chefs’ Club! Here are my recommendations for how to get started.

1. Embrace the mess

I’m starting here because the anticipated mess factor is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I hear from parents. The mess is real but did any of us start out as (or remain) pristine human beings? NO! Embrace the mess that comes with cooking and then you can also embrace the opportunity to teach kids to clean up. I have a running agreement with my kids that if they make something optional (like, a millionth tray of brownies) then they need to clean everything up, whereas when they make something for the family (like dinner) then I will help with clean up. It’s an incredibly simple but motivational way to get kids to think about making a meal instead of dessert, plus it helps avoid the resentment that may build if you assume all cleanup responsibility.

2. Let go of perfection

This was a huge one for me. When Laurel was little and we baked together, I quickly realized that my fretting about perfection was getting in the way of her experimenting. Who cares if the cookies are all uniform size or the food isn’t dished up perfectly? Better done than perfect!

3. Remember that learning to cook = major life skill

I am obsessed with life skills and cooking is a crucial one. Even when things get messy or burnt keep reminding yourself that letting your kid experiment and learn to cook is a huge gift in helping them become a functional human being. 

4. Just start and focus on basic building blocks

Now that you’ve got those 3 big picture reframing ideas under your belt, really the best thing to do is just start. No matter what age you are starting with your kids, remember that cooking and baking really boils down to some basics. Newer cooks can help measure out and mix ingredients. More experienced cooks can help with cutting (yes, cutting, with supervision) and preparation. Advanced cooks can read and follow recipes. And everyone can help grocery shop for ingredients and taste test

5. Consider a subscription service

Whether you’re a parent who doesn’t feel super savvy in the kitchen or you’re an experienced home cook and want some rut busting help, subscription services such as America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ Young Chefs’ Club will help you think out of the box! This service is designed for kids ages 5 and up and every month subscribers receive a themed box filled with kid-tested and kid-approved recipes and activities (5,000 kids across the country serve as testers...what?!), plus access to America’s Test Kitchen Kids' digital library of recipes, experiments, videos, fun food trivia, and more. Violet recently received her first box and the theme is TACOS (hooray!) and it includes taco-related recipes, techniques, experiments, and crafts. Violet loved building the taco truck (which she named Spicy Aguacate) and I was totally into the menu she created, which included (among many options) fish tacos, a side dish called fresh cheesy peppers, agua fresca, and tres leches!

Adorable taco-themed cooking kit from America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ Young Chefs’ Club

Adorable taco-themed cooking kit from America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ Young Chefs’ Club

Violet developed her taco truck menu after constructing the taco truck 3D craft from Young Chefs’ Club

Violet developed her taco truck menu after constructing the taco truck 3D craft from Young Chefs’ Club

6. Remind yourself that cooking = science

Just the way you prioritize science opportunities, prioritize cooking because cooking offers so much science and math exploration! Laurel, Violet, and I frequently talk about ratios and math in the kitchen and just the other week when I was making zucchini bread Violet was marveling over the transformation of liquids to solids as ingredients were added. That’s also a cool part of the Young Chefs’ Club subscription; it’s very focused on helping kids understand the hows and whys of food and cooking through kitchen STEM projects.

7. Reframe cooking as together time

So the whole reason I even started my kids in the kitchen when they were toddlers is because I got SO INCREDIBLY BORED playing on the floor with toys. I figured, let’s do something together that has a fun end result too! To that effect, when we got our Young Chefs’ Club kit, obviously I was psyched that it was taco-themed (we eat tacos pretty much weekly) and I was especially intrigued by the idea of making tortillas from scratch...something that has never happened in our house. Laurel is actually such an independent cook now that she often cooks solo or with Violet, so both girls were thrilled when I suggested we try making corn tortillas from scratch. It ended up being such an awesome activity to tackle together!

How to get kids cooking

How to get kids cooking

8. Invite friends to dinner

One of my favorite things about making food is sharing food and Laurel and Violet definitely feel this vibe too; they are always game to help cook and bake when we have friends coming over. On the day we made tortillas from scratch we invited our favorite neighborhood friends over for a taco party. The dad in the family is Mexican so it was particularly fun for the girls to feel the challenge of getting his stamp of approval on the homemade tortillas. Inviting friends for a meal is seriously my favorite way to both nurture human connections and get kids cooking!

Hooray for taco parties! Tacos made with homemade tortilla

Hooray for taco parties! Tacos made with homemade tortilla

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with America’s Test Kitchen Kids, a super cool cooking club subscription service for kids. All thoughts and opinions about teaching kids to cook are, of course, my own!