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How to Practice Patience When the Kids Help Cook

Our tips for keepin’ it cool.

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Flour on the floor … A 30-minute meal that’s taken well over an hour … An assistant who’s singing Katy Perry at the top of her lungs … Fingers in the sugar jar—again. Yup, cooking with children can sometimes be a slower, messier, and higher decibel affair, and the results won’t always turn out picture (or palate) perfect. There will certainly be moments when the best choice is for you to go it alone (it’s 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and everyone is hangry), but we assure you that other times you’ll find magic in the mess, learning in the lengthier process, and pure joy in the noise. Along with a variety of measuring devices, a small whisk, a starter knife, and lots of spoons for tasting, there’s one thing every parent needs in their cooking-with-kids toolkit: patience.

Easier said than done, right? Especially when your shrieking kid just knocked over a quart of buttermilk, we say from experience. Well, here are four practical tips to help you keep calm and cheerfully cook on:

Celebrate the boatload of benefits.

The first rule of patience club: Remember all the awesome stuff that comes from spending time in the kitchen with your children:

  • Teaching him the “what” and “how” of healthy eating.
  • Inspiring her to try new foods because she prepared them herself.
  • Telling stories about grandpa as you make his famous biscuits.
  • Providing hands-on experience with life skills, math, science, language, and culture.
  • Boosting his confidence—he just made dinner for the whole family!
  • Instilling a sense of responsibility (“Let’s clean up that buttermilk together.”)
  • Promoting problem-solving (“How do we fix this undercooked rice?”)
  • Getting a moment to really connect—to talk and giggle and work side by side—during a jam-packed weekend or before the onslaught of homework, bath, and bed.

Take a step back to really see all the positives and you’ll likely find that a messy counter, a little eggshell in the frittata, or a delayed bedtime one night just doesn’t matter so much.

Consider what you cook.

Have tons of time on a Sunday afternoon? Great, go ahead and tackle that cassoulet à deux. But if it’s, say, a busy weeknight, keeping your collaborative menu simple (tacos, pasta, salads, sheet-pan meals) can keep your Zen on fleek.

Have a quick chat about the fun ahead.

Before you get started, take a moment to briefly review the plan. No need to dwell on it—the goal is merely to get pumped about what you’re cooking, and maybe, just maybe, be a tad more efficient (you chop kale while she grates cheese!), tidier, and safer along the way. It can also be helpful (i.e., prevent arguments) when a child knows ahead of time which tasks she may do (peeling veggies) and which she can’t (manning the mandoline).

Get Preppy

While not at all necessary, having your mise en place in place before things heat up is a pro-style tactic for staying patient while you cook. Get out all the tools you’ll need and cut, measure, and organize all the ingredients. Feel free to pretend you’re on a cooking show. Or practice other French words. Or discuss how mise en place-ing her school stuff just might help with patience in the morning, too….

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!