5 Ways To Encourage Cooking With Kids While Unschooling

Respectful Parenting And Eating 

When I talk about cooking with kids, I feel like I need to mention how we go about eating because the two are inexplicably linked. 

From the moment our babies came earthside, we have always strived to pay attention to their cues and let them eat as much as they wanted, for me that started with breastfeeding, then morphed into giving my babies a wide variety of foods to try out when they reached the eating solid stage and then full anatomy when they became toddlers. 

Taking inspiration from Ellyn Satter’s work, we don’t label food as good or bad or treats…though in the last couple of years, “treats” is something my kids have copied from other people outside our home and it is kind of amusing to hear what they define as a treat. 

And some of the combinations my kids choose, make me wince inwardly but I don’t show judgement on the outside. 

When I talk about not having limits on food in our home and letting our kids eat whatever they want, the comments that often follow are “my kids would just eat junk food!” or “my kids wouldn’t eat anything except for cheese!” Food is one subject that tends to get the defensives raised and of course, it does, we are wired to feed our young and many of us heard a lot about food growing up.

Having no limits doesn’t mean letting them eat all the junk food or not buying any junk food, at least not for me, because I am a human who likes chocolate. 

It does mean talking about food and how it helps fuel our body, talking about what a protein is, where food comes from, it means letting them choose what to eat, how much and when and it means letting them have junk food if its in the house, or when they encounter it in the world if they choose and not to evaluate it different than any other food. 

 I get that is a hard one to get around, but it is so fascinating what happens when there are no food limits and how my kids interact with food is fascinating. 

It’s the unexpected combination, like a piece of apple in one hand and a piece of broccoli in the other or a granola bar in one hand and in the other a piece of shrimp. 

It’s seeing crickets being sampled at the market and having no qualms to trying them, asking about that weird-looking fruit and bringing home cape gooseberries to try from the grocery store. 

Cook With Kids 

Giving them anatomy over their eating, I feel naturally incites their curiosity about what goes on in the kitchen. 

Growing-up, my mother always shooed me out of the kitchen, unless she was baking and this is understandable because she was all-around busy and cooking wasn’t something she enjoyed, to her it was utilitarian. 

I learned to cook out on my own and I am thankful it became something I enjoy to do because so much of what goes on in our family life involves food, from the every day to the ritual feasts and the birthday celebrations.

To me, it’s important that my kids learn to cook, that they know a few basic things to feed themselves and that they have those skills. 

Ah, but there is no forced learning here, how do we encourage kids to cook in the kitchen? What happens if they choose not to cook or if they grow up and don’t know hwo to make themselves a meal?

That last one, I think is a bit of strawman argument, I would wager to say, at the very least, they will be able to slice some bread and spread nut butter on it. And maybe they’ll remember the countless conversations we had about nutbutters (and mama’s strong dislike of them) and maybe they’ll rememberthat one time we made homemade nutella. 

Five Ways To Encourage Cooking With Kids 

1. Be Inviting 

The kitchen is the most kid unfriendly place in the house but there are things I have laways invented my kids to do: help to get out utensils and dishes, help to put away their dishware, help cut up fruit with a butter knife or scoop the muffin batter into the pan. If you include them, then you are making them a space to be apart of what goes on in the kitchen. 

2. Give Choices 

When I am making up the grocery list, I ask them if there is something they would like from the store this week and when I am meal planning, I ask them if there is something they would like to try from one of our recipe books.

3. Explore Worlds

Try out food from literary inspirations. We have tried out pancakes from Curious George, made porridge inspired by the three bears, whipped up small cakes like Alice might have eaten and next up is Sunshine Sponge Cake, from The Wizard’s Tale. 

4. Narrate 

Talk about why you are doing what you are doing: Some days, I feel like I am the host of one of those cooking tv shows as I rattle off what I am dong: Now we have to add salt to the water, the skin on the eggplant is tough, that’s why I peel it before we eat it, I like it in rounds because it creates a surface for the sauce to stick to, now we have to let the chicken brown for five minutes, then transfer it to the pot to braise…its so interesting to see how much my kids have picked up by hearing me talk about what I am doing, as I am doing it.

5. Experiment 

Let them try. My oldest has started to ask to put things in and out of the oven. He reasoned out that if he wore oven mitts, his hands would be protected and he is tall enough to see the dial on the stove now, to read the temperature. My youngest likes to put the ingredients in the blender for smoothies and turn it on and has started peeling potatoes and carrots. Anytime they self-identify something they want to try out, I make sure to say “yes” while staying close and keeping a mindful eye on the sharp and hot objects. 

The saying, “food is life” goes right alongside the unschooling philosophy of “life is learning, learning is life” and it’s natural to learn about food and what to do with it but more than just cooking to feed themselves, I hope my kids find joy both in the cooking and eating that makes up life. 

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma.” Anthony Bourdain



An unschooling mama witch, writing about finding magick in the every day.

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