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If you have kids, there’s a good chance you’ve spent more time in your kitchen since the pandemic started. Since last March, parents like me have made on-demand snacks and hot lunches, stress-shopped for gadgets and appliances to try new recipes, and used baking as a math lesson (measuring, halving or doubling recipes, counting cookies—it’s all educational now!).
As a mom of three young daughters, the kitchen can be an exhausting place, but it’s also a place to teach my girls how to feed and nourish themselves. Below, find 12 of our favorite kitchen gadgets and tools to help your kids stir, slice, and mix, and learn to love cooking in the process.
1. Cherry pitter
Does anyone really need one more niche kitchen gadget? In this case, yes. My daughters love olives, so at snack time we stand over the counter hacking up each little orb to remove the pit. With cherries, the process is all that plus a crime scene of red juice splashed all over the kitchen.
I found a solution in this 5-starred pitter. Any pause I had questioning such a niche tool was quickly overpowered by my desire to never again spend 30 minutes of my life producing two teaspoons of kids’ snack. It also makes baking with fresh cherries easier. This Food Network recipe for hand pies is kid-friendly, and bonus—my girls get to use the cherry pitter, which shoots out the pit like a nail gun.
2. Popcorn popper
For years now, we’ve had a standing weekly family movie night, in which the snacks are just as important as what’s on screen. After buying cartloads of grocery store popcorn, I realized it’s far less expensive to buy the kernels in bulk and whip up stovetop batches with the Whirley-Pop. It’s quick, takes about three minutes, and the hand-cranked mechanism makes for a little old-timey fun.
When we want to mix it up a go beyond the usual sprinkle of salt, we add fresh-grated parmesan, cinnamon and sugar, or Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel seasoning. Or we try an easy recipe, like peanut butter banana or s’mores popcorn.
GIR makes my favorite spatulas—they’re heatproof to 550°, dishwasher safe, BPA-free, and are just all-around sturdy and ergonomic. My girls love the mini tool set in sprinkles, both because the small spatula, spoon, whisk, and flipper are all easy to use, and because they’re reminiscent of a vanilla ice cream cone. Test them out with a batch of mini-quiche, aka, a portable, make-ahead breakfast.
4. Knife set
Forking over knives to children isn’t for everyone, but if you think yours are ready to start slicing and dicing, try one that’s made just for them. With a blunt tip and ergonomic handle, this nylon set is safer for little ones than its metal counterpart, and still cuts through most fruit and veggies.
For older kids, around 8 and up, the Opinel knife is designed with a rounded, shortened stainless steel blade, and comes with a hand guard to protect little fingers and a veggie peeler with a wide wooden handle. The set will help them learn to chop and prep, and, once they get enough practice under their belts, will alleviate some of your kitchen work.
Test their skills with a vegetable soup like this one from Allrecipes, which calls for plenty of chopped celery, carrots, potatoes.
5. Manual pasta maker
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Creative tots will love the tactile fun of kneading pasta dough, and feeding the result through a pasta maker to produce delicate fettuccine or angel hair. Mix up batches of the dough, and then play around with shapes and sizes. Whether you top with lovingly made bolognese or straight up salt and butter, they’ll love it because they made it.
6. Mini oven mitts
Kids are far more likely to cover up their tiny hands if their oven mitts are bedecked in whimsical rainbow sprinkle patterns. (Or fish, or dinosaurs.) Well-fitting oven mitts will also help them feel like they’re officially part of the action.
7. Cupcake liners
Almost as soon as quarantine began last March, we started baking endless batches of banana bread muffins, along with the rest of the country. After going through countless disposable liners, I bought the reusable version in colorful silicone. They’re sturdy, and the finished muffins pop out smoothly. I also use them to fill with cut bananas or orange wedges for dessert, instantly elevating fruit salad.
8. Learning tower
Popularized with the Montessori method of education, kids climb into leaning towers to engage with the world more easily. A cage-like guardrail protects them from falling off, making it a perfect stool to sidle up to the kitchen counter to roll pasta dough, decorate cookies, or help with the measuring and mixing for your morning batch of oatmeal.
Want more info on the leaning tower trend? Check out our full list of the best leaning towers we tested.
Teach them early to protect their clothes (and cut down on your laundry) with a mini apron. This one from Williams Sonoma is available in adult-kid bundles (matchies!) and can be personalized, or opt for the same apron the pros use, Hedley & Bennett. The Bedley & Bennett version is made with the same sturdy materials and designed with thoughtful details (an adjustable neck, double pockets), just a little smaller.
10. Ice pop molds
When the weather gets warm, we get an extra boost of fruit and veggies from smoothie ice pops. My girls love my tropi-kale version, with chunks of frozen mango, pineapple, and banana, a handful of kale, and almond milk or orange juice. They also love a spinach-packed green smoothie pop from the blog As Easy as Apple Pie. We blend up a batch for breakfast, then pour the rest into ice pops molds.
This mini version makes a perfectly-sized pop, especially for my 3-year-old who’s known to tap out halfway, leaving the drippy remnants on the kitchen table. If it’s really hot (or I’m really tired of cooking), these are also a perfectly respectable breakfast option.
11. Waffle maker
On weekend mornings, my husband makes stacks of pancakes or waffles, and the girls love to help. Mostly, it’s a classic store bought mix. (Side note: after testing nearly every box on the shelf, we’ve deemed Krusteaz the winner for its consistently fluffy ‘cakes.)
Occasionally, we mix it up with pumpkin or banana walnut waffles. For weekend breakfast we stick with the traditional waffle maker, but the mini version, producing soft and crispy 4 inch discs, is perfect for tiny helpers. It’s also perfect for whipping up waffle snacks, field testing waffling things (grilled cheese—yes! Bagel bites—no!), and making an impromptu confetti waffle birthday cake.
12. Measuring Cups
Measuring dry ingredients made up at least 40% of our math lessons in 2020. The wide grips on these sturdy stainless steel cups are easier for little hands to hold, and make it less likely half of the flour ends up on the floor.
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