I spent Monday morning with a pack of high school seniors talking nutrition followed by a hands-on cooking class. The range of know-how in the kitchen was significant, from seasoned pros to kids who looked like they’d never held a knife before. I encouraged the students to take advantage of the summer to sharpen their cooking skills, so they’ll be able to fend for themselves when living independently. Indeed, I think summer is an excellent time to get kids cooking. I’ve written quite a bit about the subject including the tips below. You might also find this post useful, which focuses specifically on teens and tweens. And  here I’ve written about all the upsides to getting your kids to cook. 

10 Ways to Get Kids Cooking

If you’ve not yet invited your kids to step up to the butcher block, it’s really never to early to begin. Here are 10 pointers to ease the transition and up the fun.

1. Give them Ownership

Involve your kids in any and every step of meal prep. Ask what they’d like to cook, direct them to a cookbook or website for inspiration, hand them paper and pencil to write a shopping list, bring them to the store with you, and divvy up cooking responsibilities.

2. Start Small

Tackling Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon right out of the gate may not be the best idea. Start with something simple, say scrambled eggs, so they, and you, can build confidence in the process.

3. Loosen up the Control

Make room for little cooks in your kitchen, allowing them to weigh in on the details. If they want to make the cookies tiny or add salami to the salad, even if it’s not how you’d do it, let ’em. Last week Virginia wanted to bake gougères for dinner. French cheese puffs, something normally served as an hors d’oeuvre with Champagne? Not what I’d have chosen, but gougères it was. We paired them with a giant salad and Virginia felt like a champ.

4. Let Go of Perfection

When kids are cooking, you can’t be too tied to the results. It’s not the time to bake the chocolate tart for an elegant dinner party, that is unless you don’t mind if it’s lopsided or slightly burnt. Mistakes and mishaps are part of the process.

5. Forget the Mess

People often ask why it is that my siblings and I are all capable cooks. I’m sure the fact that my mom gave us free rein without a thought to the mess is part of the reason. Try to look the other way as the egg lands on the floor and the milk spills over the sides of the measuring cup. You gotta let it go, otherwise you’ll kill their desire to cook.

6. Teach them to Clean Up

At the same time, once the cooking is done, have the kids pitch in with the clean up. Even pint size cooks can put the lid on the sugar jar and return the mustard to the fridge. Eventually they’ll be as capable at clean up as they are at cooking.

7. Know your Limits

I used to cook with all three of my girls all at once until one day I realized, it didn’t work for me. Too chaotic. Now, it’s usually one at a time, and everyone is happier. Beyond that, know your limits in terms of what days of the week and times of the day are ideal. Maybe weeknights are too hectic but Sunday brunch is delightful.

8. Don’t be a Nervous Nelly

Watching an eight-year old with a pairing knife or a 10-year-old at the helm of a frying pan can be nerve racking. But try not to let them see you sweat. Be there to teach and support, but not fret. This guide on age-appropriate kitchen tasks may prove helpful as well.

9. Cut the Criticism

Be thoughtful about your feedback. Instead of, “you don’t stir batter that way.” You can try, “the banana bread comes out extra delicious if you mix it gently, like this.”

10. Praise the Work

Give them props for pitching in and praise the end result.

You’ll find more tips and recipes at this excellent new resource for parents on cooking with kids: Kids Cook Monday.

Have any of you cooked with your kids lately. What did you make? How did it go?