2/14/2022 | By Kari Smith

In these days of enticing kid-focused entertainment, including tablets, video games, and TV on demand, it can be challenging to engage with grandchildren. Although some adults, like myself, may have had a grandma who always shooed them out of the kitchen, it has been a pleasure to watch my mother engage with my own children in the kitchen and create lasting memories. There are many ways to engage with grandkids in the kitchen, and most can be scaled to fit kids of any age. You will be building memories and important life skills, too.

Think outside the bowl

Open your mind to the many possibilities of engaging with your grandkids in the kitchen.

Consider a range of recipes. Baking cookies with a child seems to be the first thought when it comes to activities in the kitchen. But it doesn’t have to be cookies – or other sweets – and it doesn’t have to be baking. Kids frequently enjoy working in the kitchen, especially if that is not something they normally do at home.

Look for kid-friendly tasks. Most recipes happen to include kid-friendly steps: tearing bread or lettuce, chopping herbs (cut them with kitchen shears in a cup), grating cheese, forming cookies and protein snacks into balls, topping a pizza, crushing nuts or crackers (especially fun!), and so much more.

Find flexible recipes. Start saving a stash of recipes that aren’t just kid-friendly in the making and eating but that allow some creativity, too. Pizza, for example, can be made with different sauces and toppings. A layered trifle not only makes a delicious dessert, but your grandchildren can each create their own variations – start with pound cake or brownies, layer with various pudding flavors, and add candy and/or fruit additions.

When possible, let the kids help with the grocery shopping, and allow them to help pick out ingredients for their chosen recipe.

Be prepared for messes, but kindly expect that kids will help clean up, too (even if you return later to perfect the task!).

Related: Homemade fruit leather, perfect for kids. Goodbye, Fruit Roll-Ups! Goodbye unpronounceable ingredients!

Homemade pizza pockets – easy to make, fun to eat

Grandkids in the kitchen: Ideas by age group

Start your grandchildren early with toddler-friendly tasks, then build their skills as they age. One day, they might even make a meal from start to finish!

Toddlers and preschoolers

For younger grandkids in the kitchen, like toddlers or preschoolers, choose a simple recipe or projects that do not require specific measurements, such as sandwiches and salads.

You can begin to teach them objective critical thinking skills, too: they complete a project, pat themselves on the back, then nicely critique the finished product, learn from it, and improve. The sandwich is great! Can it be even better? For example, ask Goldilocks questions about that PBJ (withholding your own adult judgment!): is there too much peanut butter, too little, or is it just right? Too much jelly, too little, or just right? Would a different kind of jelly work, too?

Related: 10 ways to entertain the grandkids when they come over

For even more fun, give your grandchild a kids’ cookbook and choose a different recipe each time you get together. Make a note in the book of the date you made the recipe, creating a book of memories for your grandchild. Allow the child to measure ingredients, pour them, and mix them. Children at this age will need more supervision – and likely will require more cleanup – but there is much they can do.

For safety, have a non-skid stool or Montessori-style tower ready for jobs such as mixing that may require a bit more height, or set the bowl down on a coffee table or lower surface to allow them easier access.

Elementary-aged kids

Assign elementary-aged kids the task of reading the recipe and measuring ingredients, perhaps even making conversions when needed. Let them choose a recipe, or at least give them a few options to choose from.

When working with your grandkids in the kitchen, let them borrow one of your aprons – or get an apron that is their size, plus a chef’s hat and oven mitts, if you’d like to really go all out!

Middle schoolers and older kids

Encourage middle schoolers or older grandchildren to take creative liberties with recipes. Work to “perfect” a recipe: make the same recipe each time, implementing small changes until the recipe is exactly how you like it. Be sure to have them write down the recipe changes each time and save your recipes in a binder to make again later.

Building more than just memories

Doing chores may sound like a drag, but many kids are task-driven when given the chance. Grandpa and Grandma may also have the patience and time to spend with grandchildren that their busy parents may struggle with. “It’s just easier or quicker to do it myself” may unfortunately result in a child not learning to do the task, which sadly leads to college-aged kids – and adults – who do not know how to perform basic skills such as cooking or cleaning.

Related: Play Boomer’s Jumble games for kids and adults

It may be easier to talk younger kids into doing chores, since they see them as an opportunity to help, get involved, and tackle a task. Even if a child is too young to hold a broom, they can “sweep the floor” with a dustpan and brush. Keep in mind – the cleanliness of the floor afterward is not as important as the memories made and skills learned. Older kids can help with rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher, as well as sweeping and mopping.

Kitchen skills even help engage learning in measurements, fractions, conversions, etc. – and reinforce that school lessons are life lessons, too.

I remember feeling shocked when I received a text message with a picture of my 3-year-old daughter drying dishes with her Nana. I didn’t know she could do that! Not only did she do it, she enjoyed it, and I am sure she will carry those memories of time with Nana in the kitchen with her for the rest of her life. Give your grandkids a chance to show you what they are capable of, and start making memories.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith