Do you have a kid who loves to drag a chair over to the kitchen counter to watch you cook? Or are you looking for a way to get a picky eater to try some new foods?
Investing in some kids’ cooking tools -- whether they’re age 2 or age 12 -- could have life-long benefits.
“By teaching your kids to cook, you’re setting them up for life,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler (2005.) “They’re learning essential skills, and you’re helping them become people who won’t just microwave everything and call it dinner.”
Ward says that cooking with kids isn’t only about the finished product. Although dinnertime lectures about the benefits of Brussels sprouts might fall flat, your kids will learn about a good diet naturally if they’re helping you make meals with healthy ingredients like whole grains and vegetables.
“Cooking with kids can also help them develop their counting, time management, and fine motor skills,” Ward tells WebMD. “It gives you a way to spend time together, and it gives them a shot of self-esteem.”
Here are 12 tips for kids’ cooking tools and gadgets to inspire your budding chef.
Kids in the Kitchen
1. Basic Kids’ Cooking Tools
Be sure you have spoons, spatula, whisk, vegetable peeler, and small rolling pin.
You might have all of these tools in your kitchen right now. But your kids might like having a set that’s just for their own use – whether it’s new or assembled out of extras hidden in your drawers. “You’re giving them ownership and making cooking a special activity for them,” says Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, coauthor of The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time (Broadway Books, 2004). “That can make them more interested in helping.”
These basic kids’ cooking tools are good for even the youngest chefs. “Just about any kid can help stir with a spoon or a whisk,” Ward says. And if your little ones start to lose interest, you can always stick wooden spoons in their hands so they can bang pots while you finish up. Or make those silicone spoons. “It won’t be quite so noisy,” Bissex says.
2. Measuring Cups and Measuring Spoons
Go for plastic, silicone, or metal measuring cups instead of glass.
Measuring spoons and cuts are essential kids’ cooking tools. Very young kids can just dump in ingredients that you’ve already measured. But as they get older, kids can start using them in more sophisticated ways – and pick up a little math in the process.
Aim for durable -- and maybe colorful -- materials when choosing these kids’ cooking tools. Remember that you’re not really supposed to use dry measuring cups for liquids and wet measuring cups for solids. But plenty of people do in a pinch without calamitous results.
3. A Stepping Stool
Invest in a stable stepping stool instead of letting your children stand on tiptoes or perch on a wobbly chair.
As a parent, watching your middle school kids leaning over a hot stove can be nerve-wracking. So when cooking with kids, Bissex says that you should make it as safe as possible.
4. A Set of Small Bowls
Small bowls are versatile must-have kids’ cooking tools.
When cooking with kids, you can place all the ingredients in bowls and then have them dump them into the pot as needed. You can also use bowls to set out ingredients that kids can choose to add themselves – like salad toppings or dips. “Kids really like being able to add their own ingredients,” says Bissex. “It gives them a sense of control.” Make sure whatever you get is durable and can withstand frequent drops on the kitchen floor.
You can also use bowls to shape foods. “Put some cooked rice into a bowl, turn it upside down, and pop it on the plate,” Bissex says. “You’ll get a little igloo of rice that’s more interesting for kids than a typical spoonful.”
5. Kitchen Scissors
For kids, a pair of scissors is a smart substitute for knives.
Kitchen scissors won’t do everything that a knife can do, of course, but they’re handy for cutting herbs or the ends of beans, Ward says.
Of course, kitchen shears can be pretty sharp themselves. “For young kids, I’d go with safety scissors over larger kitchen scissors,” Ward says.
6. Safer Knives
For young kids, use plastic knives for cutting soft foods – like bananas or cheese. Butter knives are another option. Get a small cutting board to go along with it.
As your kids get older -- our experts recommended at about age 8 to 10 or so -- you can introduce sharper knives. Start with something small, like a paring knife. Make sure your kids understand how to cut safely and -- equally important -- how to hold the food while they cut.
Some final advice: don’t start your kids with old knives that have gotten dull. “Dull blades are actually more dangerous than sharp ones,” Bissex says. “If the blade is dull, your child will really have to press down hard on the food to cut through it. That’s when slipping is more likely.”
7. Cookie Cutters
Cookie cutters are not just for cookies.
Your child can use cookie cutters to make tea sandwiches, liven up apple slices, or shape your pancakes. Although your kids might have grown blasé about grilled cheese sandwiches, they might feel differently once they can transform their sandwiches into star shapes.
8. Plastic Bags
The humble plastic bag is a simple and fun kids’ cooking tool.
“Instead of breading foods in bowls of flour and breadcrumbs, put all the ingredients in a sealed plastic bag,” Ward says. “Then let your kids shake the bag to coat the food.”
9. Muffin Pans
Muffin tins aren’t only for muffins.
Muffin tins are very versatile with a little imagination. Your child use them to make things like little tortes, meatloaves, or frittatas.
Bissex recommends silicone muffin pans when cooking with kids. You don’t have to worry about the muffins getting stuck in the tin and wedging them out with a knife. Instead, your kids can just pop them out from the bottom. Silicone muffin pans are also easy to clean.
Think about a mini-muffin pan too. Kids will like the tiny size, and it might make for a healthier afternoon snack than a full-sized muffin.
10. An Apron
Some young kids -- particularly those who spend most of the day dressed as princesses -- might really get a kick out of getting dressed up for cooking in a kid-sized apron. It won’t keep the dough out of their hair, of course, but it might keep their clothes a little bit cleaner. Older kids might like aprons for more practical reasons.
Treat aprons as a fun but optional item. You need to accept that when you’re cooking with young kids, they’ll get messy. Forcing unwilling chefs into aprons will make cooking with kids less fun for everyone.
11. A Recipe Book
Give your kids a way to keep their recipes together. You could write down or tape a recipe in a blank pad, or you could opt for a more elaborate scrapbook or album. Take a photo of the finished product and stick in a copy. Your kids might really enjoy looking over what they’ve accomplished. Plus, they can use the recipes when they cook again.
Don’t forget to have your kids name their recipes too. “It will give them a sense of ownership over the meal,” Bissex tells WebMD.
12. Salad Spinners and Cheese Graters With Handles
Graters and spinners with handles are fun for kids who cook. Your children may eagerly eat salad if they made it themselves. And a grater with a handle is safer for tender young hands.
If you’re assembling some kids’ cooking tools, make sure they have a place to put them. Pick up a simple plastic box or basket -- or maybe a handyman’s toolbox -- and keep it in an easily-accessible cabinet.
Cooking With Kids: Use the Big Gadgets Together
Obviously, no 5-year-old needs a $500 mixer. But if you’re a cook yourself, your kids might enjoy using some of your more expensive cooking gadgets, experts say.
For instance, using a slow cooker is a great way of cooking with kids. “Your kids can help you put in all of the ingredients,” Bissex says. “It’s all very safe too, since there’s no heat when you’re preparing it.” Then when they get home from soccer practice in the evening, they’ll be greeted by the smell of the meal that they helped put together.
Your child will need supervision, of course, but food processors and blenders can be a fun for kids – perfect for smoothies and dips. Have your kids load the food into the blender or food processor while it’s unplugged, or while the container is separate from the device. Once you’ve sealed it and are holding the top down, you can have your kids press the button to turn it on.
Although you’ll need to provide close supervision, using a hot plate is a handy way of cooking with kids. It allows you to bring the cooking down to a lower level -- like the kitchen table -- where it will be easier for your kids to add ingredients and stir than it would be on an oven range.