Stepping into the kitchen together teaches valuable life skills to kids, and gives families a daily opportunity to build memories that will last for years to come. If you've made it your personal goal to share your love for the kitchen with your entire family this year, here are a few tips for how to make the mission a reality.
Mom and Daughter in Kitchen
Mom and Daughter in Kitchen
| Credit: Shaul Schwarz

My fondest memories from childhood include the hours I spent by my mom's side in the kitchen learning how to cook and bake. She would teach me tips and tricks for making our family's heirlooom recipes taste just right, and, as I grew older, we experimented together--sometimes with success and sometimes with failure--on a number of new recipes and dishes. These memories and experiences impacted me greatly and are something I talk about fairly regularly in my posts, so sorry-not-sorry if I sound like a broken record. I speak firsthand when I say that cooking is better experienced and enjoyed as a communal activity, and encouraging your family members to learn new skills in the kitchen is not only a great bonding activity, but it's extremely rewarding and a vital step for young ones towards living a healthy lifestyle.

The #1 way to get your family members excited about helping out and learning in the kitchen is to make it fun for everyone involved. If cooking (and cleaning up after) sounds like a mandatory chore they have to participate in, they'll be far less likely to actively engage in the proces. The tips below are all practical ways to do exactly that--keep things fun. You know the best way to encourage your family and loved ones along the way, so use your intuition coupled with this enduring advice and you'll soon have a kitchen full of eager bodies that can't wait to help you make dinner.

1. Let them be head chef

It's your time to take off the boss hat and allow your children, spouse, and/or other less-experienced loved ones to help select the type of dish, recipe, and ingredients they want to cook and/or bake. People--children especially--tend to love what they love, so at least at the beginning, allow them to stick to foods they know, and don't try to push them to make something that doesn't sound appetizing to them. If you end up eating macaroni and cheese and homemade pizza for a couple weeks, well hey, at least they're happy, right? The point is they're making it for themselves (with your help) and building confidence and pride upon tasting the more-wholesome-than-take-out results.

2. Clear the schedule

Another quick and practical tip is to make sure you have plenty of time in your day to completely start and finish the cooking or baking process. No project is fun when you're rushed, and you're less likely to deliver a final project that's actually stomach-able. Cooking is going to take significantly longer when you get the rest of the family involved, that's just part of it. But the more you practice, the faster it will go.

3. Don't sweat the small stuff

When you actually begin the cooking process, your instinct will be to act as the "teacher" and show everyone how to perform every tiny function exactly as you would, but trust me, this is a fast track to frustration and burnout--ever heard of micromanaging? Instead, show them the basics and give pointers in a relaxed tone when necessary, but don't nickpick the small things that might discourage their excitement for being there or add pressure by standing over their shoulders the entire time. Assign each person an age-appropriate task, watch him or her do it a couple of times, and then give each person space and trust them to do their duty. They'll catch on quickly and be more apt to ask questions when they're unsure if you give them a little space in the beginning.

4. Encouragement is a must

When you're teaching people new skills, they need extra encouragement. It can be intimidating to be uneducated on a topic, so this is where minimal nitpicking and lots of encouragement come into play. Children, especially, will need all the positive feedback you can give. Trust me, your praises will result in immediate excitement, joy, and confidence.

5. Give it a purpose

Identifying an end goal to any project is important because it gives the task a purpose. With that being said, this purpose need not be earth-shattering, and simple things like baking banana bread together for neighbors, allowing the kids to give some of the brownies they helped make to friends, making dinner for Dad, or even just learning a delicious recipe to enjoy together are all great goals. Just be sure to take a minute to verbalize the goal out loud, this is yet another way to build excitement and ensure that the kitchen crew stays engaged for the entirety of the cooking session.