6 Ways To Help Your Kids Become Independent In The Kitchen

6 Ways To Help Your Kids Become Independent In The Kitchen

Words by Kathy Oaks of Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits, who is graciously sponsoring this post.

With our oldest off to college in the fall, teaching life skills has been on my mind a lot. Fortunately, I don’t worry about his being able to do his laundry, clean a toilet, or cook some basic (and even not-so-basic) meals. Since he was a toddler, we’ve been cooking together with varying success, and I wanted to share some things that have worked for our family.

Start Young

Even though “helping” isn’t always helpful at the moment, it’s excellent training to let kids in on age-appropriate kitchen tasks. Our kids got to roll dough, spread or sprinkle toppings, and cut up fruit and soft veggies. They always love cooking with grandparents!

Even young kids can handle more than we might think. One day I strained my back after promising we’d make grasshopper pie. I sat in the dining room with the recipe book in my lap and an ice pack, giving them instructions and telling them where to find things. The two older boys, who were six and four at the time, did all the work. They made the whole thing, from homemade peppermint ice cream to graham cracker crust, all on their own! They even cleaned up as they went, as much as possible.

Start with Favorites

When they’re old enough to use the stove safely, help them cook easy meals. We started with simple favorites like mac and cheese, couscous, and hotdogs. Our kids’ confidence was boosted, and now they often make mac and cheese or couscous for a midnight snack.

Easy desserts are another way to get kids involved. Box mixes are fun and a great way to build confidence, even if they’re not the healthiest options. My kids jumped right in, graduating to recipes pretty quickly. These days they often enjoy making birthday cakes.

Work Together 

Treat cooking time as a special time with your kids. Teach them more sophisticated cooking techniques or learn new ones together. They’ll feel confident in the kitchen later in life and learn to enjoy cooking with others. Plus, you’ll be modeling lifelong learning!

Even with my teens, who are perfectly capable of making a meal for the family, I often keep them company. My middle son recently learned to make steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce and was proud of himself for his fancy new dish. We also have some great conversations since it can be easier to talk about things when you’re working on something else. 

Try Meal Boxes and Planning Ahead

Initially, my children didn’t want to learn how to cook anything beyond mac and cheese. However, they were excited about learning more when they chose from an online menu. Having a meal box delivered regularly, with all the ingredients and instructions included, can be a lifesaver for some people. I worked it into the budget as a homeschooling expense, no different from buying a subscription box for anything else educational. I’m sous-chef, and they tell me what parts they want me to work on–usually the chopping.

One thing that has worked well for us is having a weekly cooking night for each family member. (My husband does the clean-up with the boys, so he orders take-out on his nights.) The kids get to choose what they’re cooking for the night. When the meal isn’t from a meal box, they get to figure out how to make something from whatever we have on hand.

Step Back 

As soon as your kids are confident in an area, step back. Let them choose, plan, and cook. Be nearby to help them if they need it, but otherwise, let them do their thing. Also, giving them age-appropriate cookbooks helps. All three of my boys were around ten when they started cooking independently. Soon, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of snacks and meals that your children prepared themselves.

Clean Up is Important, Too

Clean up with your kids, adding on tasks as they become more confident. Show them how to put things away as they cook and where everything lives in the kitchen. Help them clean the pots and pans, and show them how to take care of things to make them last. When they’re old enough, help them start acquiring their kitchen basics set to take with them as they launch into the wider world.

My husband prefers washing dishes, so he’s in charge of helping the boys learn all the ins and outs of cleaning. We started them on unloading the dishwasher, then loading it, and now the older boys are learning to scrub the pots. And everyone knows to at least rinse or soak things when they’re done rather than letting them sit about the house. 

Cooking is a great way to teach life skills and spend quality time with your family. Here’s to many memorable times in the kitchen!

Kathy Oaks is a photographer, an educator, and the bestselling author of several books about homeschooling and travel with kids, including Road SchoolingHomeschoolers Are Not Hermits, and Why I Love Homeschooling Neurodiverse Kids.

She lives in the Midwest with her husband and three sons, where she is the Member Liaison for Planet Homeschool, a secular learning co-op. Kathy enjoys teaching photography and public speaking classes, reading, sharing her knowledge with others, and spending time in nature with her family.

You can find her work at HomeschoolersNotHermits.com/books

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