7 practical tips to make cooking with kids a fun family bonding activity

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In the spirit of Mother's Day week, we want to honor all you awesome moms out there. You work SO hard and do the not-so-fun things involved with being a parent. We tip our hats to the sacrifices you make. But besides chores and errands, we know that you also expend a lot of effort to make a lot of fun things happen for your family too!

We think that cooking is one of the best things a family can do together to have fun. And it turns out that lots of parents agree with us! A 2013 Northwestern survey of 2300 American parents found that "Cooking and Eating Meals Together" is parents' favorite way to spend time with their families. Believe it or not, it ranked way higher than watching TV or movies together, or playing video games together.

Our own Nomster Chef research with parents found that the biggest reason parents wanted to cook with their kids was because it would increase family bonding and togetherness time. More quality family time was even more important to parents than increasing kids' willingness to try new food and eat more healthfully (which of course are pretty high up on the list!).

But, while lots of parents want to have fun cooking with their kids, we know it can be hard to make it happen. Uncle Ben's cooking initiative found that 90% of parents believe cooking with kids is important, but only 1/3 of parents cook with their kids weekly. Research has found that the main barriers to cooking with kids are time and mess. Sound familiar? Nomster Chef's test parents have also told us that finding the time to cook with their kids is also the hardest thing for them. 

While we can't add more hours to the day, we hope these tips might be able to help moms (and dads!) turn cooking into the fun family togetherness time you want!

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7 practical tips to make cooking with kids a fun family bonding activity

1.) Make it part of your weekly routine

Experts who specialize in habit formation say that something truly becomes a habit when you don't have to waste mental energy deciding whether or not you want to do it. So, save yourself some mental energy! Habit expert Gretchen Rubin says that scheduling is one of "the most powerful strategies of habit formation." 

Try this

  • Schedule a time on your family's calendar to cook, and make it the same day and time every week!
  • Some ideas: Friday Cooking + Movie night, Sunday Morning Fancy Breakfast, or jumping on board with the Kids Cook Monday movement.

2.) Schedule enough time

It probably goes without saying, but cooking with kids takes longer than cooking by yourself. So, it may not be the best strategy to schedule family cooking on a night when you're running to soccer practice. Without a time crunch, a lot of the stress of cooking with kids can be alleviated.

Try this:

  • Schedule cooking during a block of time on the weekends or a weeknight free of commitments
  • Make sure you have a solid hour to cook 

3.) Choose recipes friendly to kid cooks

One of the easiest ways for kids to lose interest in cooking a meal is if they can't stay involved in the whole cooking process. When we're selecting recipes for Nomster Chef, we have a couple of baseline criteria we use to determine if a recipe is suitable for a kid chef's ability level.

Look for recipes that:

  • Cook via baking instead of constant stovetop attention
  • Have ingredients soft enough for kids to cut with a butter knife (mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes), or that can be torn instead of cut (herbs, broccoli), or that will be "cut" with a food processor or blender
  • Involve measuring and mixing. Even young kids are good at measuring, dumping, and mixing things in a bowl.

4.) Embrace the mess

There's no way around it: cooking with kids can be messy! If your patience has already been stretched to its limits on the day you planned to cook, perhaps bump the meal to another day. That way, you can enjoy the time with your kiddos instead of stressing.

Try this:

  • Cook only when your patience reserves are high and the mess will bother you less
  • Go into a family cooking experience with the expectation that there will be more clean-up than usual

5.) Tell your family's food story

Cooking family recipes, or recipes inspired by your family's heritage, are wonderful ways to help your child connect with other generations and share the story of your family. Research shows that kids who know more about their family history and their family stories have a better sense of self and higher self esteem. Food can strengthen family bonds and create lasting family memories. In fact, we even wrote about cooking our own family's recipes on the Nomster blog.

Try this:

  • Dig out those old family recipes and make them with your kids. Talk about the relatives behind the recipes.
  • Make new memories by making cooking a family tradition

6.) Pics or it didn't happen

Take pictures of your family's culinary creations! Better yet, take selfies of the process. Taking pictures that you can look back on later will help preserve the memories of the fun times in the kitchen (or that one time spaghetti sauce ended up on the ceiling and the cat). And don't forget to get in the picture yourself, mom.

7.) Eat the results together

You've probably read about the benefits of eating meals together as a family. But at the very least, even if the actual cooking part was stressful, eating together can cap off the event as a positive experience. Talk about what parts of cooking you all liked, and what parts were challenging. Talk about your day. Talk about whatever!


We hope that these 7 practical tips will help cooking feel more like the fun family bonding activity parents want it to be! Do you have any additional suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!

Ashley Moulton Nomster Chef

About the Author

Ashley Moulton is the Founder and Nomster-in-Chief of Nomster Chef. She's got a M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford's Graduate School of Education, and loves helping kids learn about food. She would describe herself as an om-nom-nomnivore, and her favorite veggies to nom are mushrooms.