How to Teach a Reluctant Child to Cook

Some kids start out early loving to cook. My kids, not so much. While they all went through the “mommy’s helper” phase when they were little, they all lost interest in cooking and meal preparation early on. They have all been very reluctant to learn how to cook.

The solution, fortunately, has not been too difficult, although none are enthusiastic about the job most days. These are some of the steps I took to bring my kids from reluctant to cooperative and occasionally enthusiastic cooks.

Set Up a Schedule

Pick a day of the week that your child will help out with at least one meal. With three kids, this means I get help in the kitchen quite often. They know which day is theirs, and that if there’s a particular recipe they want to make, they need to tell me in time for grocery shopping. If I don’t know what they’d like to make, I may not have the ingredients on hand.

Start With Favorite Meals

What do your kids like to eat? Teach them to make their favorite homemade meals first. There’s a reason why all of my kids have helped make homemade pizza.

Don’t feel bad about allowing them to use premade ingredients. If you aren’t comfortable making homemade pizza crust, for example, buy a crust from the store. We have also used meatballs from Costco and other shortcuts in recipes.

Cooking doesn’t have to be dinner, although it has usually been the most convenient for us. If your child wants to make breakfast or lunch and there’s time for that, go for it.

Don’t Forget Desserts

If there’s one thing kids love to make, it’s dessert. Allow them to sometimes pick a dessert to make along with dinner. I don’t allow dessert to be the only thing they make that day, but it can be a part of the meal.

The great part about making dessert is that many of them can be made early, or even need to be made early. Many desserts need to cool before they can be eaten, which makes it easier to prepare the dinner that goes with the dessert.

Plan Fun Meal Days

The week that school started, I told each of my kids that their meal that week would be either “eat dessert first” or “breakfast for dinner.” They got to pick which one. They were also allowed to suggest their own ideas for a fun dinner, but to my complete lack of surprise, none did. Only one wanted to make breakfast for dinner – the others wanted dessert first on their nights.

My son was the one who chose to make breakfast for dinner, and he got a lesson on how complicated it can be to make a big meal where everything has to be warm at the same time. We made chocolate pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and fruit salad. Naturally, we started with the fruit salad, as that could just sit in the fridge until dinner. Making the rest took quite a bit of effort on both our parts to keep up. We both had fun, of course.

Be Flexible

I’m very flexible with my kids and cooking, especially during the school year. If they have too much homework or they’re just exhausted, they’re excused from helping. There’s time enough for them to learn about the occasional monotony of cooking a meal when they’re older and it has to be done every day no matter how they feel. If they learn to enjoy cooking when they’re younger, the monotony shouldn’t be as bad when they’re older. I hope.

Why Should You Teach Your Kids to Cook?

If you’re getting a lot of resistance from your kids about cooking, there may be times when you wonder why you should bother, especially with young children. Aside from the fact that they will need the skill as adults, there are excellent reasons to teach your children to cook.

1. They will understand food better.

Cooking is how kids learn about what goes into making a healthy meal, and what food looks like before you combine the ingredients to make a meal. There was that show a few years ago where children had trouble recognizing common vegetables. Getting them involved in food preparation (and including vegetables in your everyday diet) will help ensure that they know about a wide range of foods.

2. They will be more confident.

When my kids started cooking, they were very nervous about the heat from the stove and oven. They’re still cautious, but they get more comfortable every time, as they learn that it’s not that hard to deal with the heat and not get burned. The exception is my youngest, as she’s still small enough that it’s hard to reach things on the stove, never mind the oven.

It’s also important that kids get comfortable using knives. When their movements have been more tentative with knives, they have been at greater risk of hurting themselves, as they haven’t held things safely for fear of the blade. As they gain confidence and knowledge, they’re safer. That goes for a lot of things in life.

3. Kids are more likely to eat what they cook.

This is a real help if you have a picky eater. While it’s easier to start with foods they love, as your kids get more comfortable you can start challenging them a little. You can have them cook things that aren’t favorites, try new recipes or unfamiliar ingredients and get creative in the kitchen together. The pride of accomplishment can make kids more willing to eat things they might not have been willing to try otherwise.

4. It eventually takes stress off you.

Teaching kids to cook is not always fun. Sometimes it’s just a pain. But in the long run, as they get old enough to cook without your direct supervision, it makes your life easier. You don’t have to cook when you’re tired from a hard day – you can have one of the kids handle it. You might even save some money by not needing to eat out so often.