Children — and children at heart — can find joy in cooking. There’s a definite payoff in preparing a meal and placing the finished product on the table. If your kids help out with that task, they get to share in the joy. You’ll bond over the experience, and they’ll learn a few life experiences along the way, too. Mostly, you could help spark a love of cooking that lasts for a lifetime.
The same goes for grilling, although it may seem strange to enlist a child helper for such a task. You’re cooking meats, veggies and other foodstuffs over a very hot flame, after all. Kids can help, though — and you can ensure they do so safely and enjoyably. Keep these five tips in mind the next time you and your little one helm the barbecue.
1. Follow Grill Safety Measures
Regardless of whether your little one’s helping you or not, you should scope out a good spot for your grill. Namely, you want to put the cooker in an open space free of any branches, awnings or other overhead hazards. Otherwise, a sailing ember could alight these and other dangling, flammable things.
That’s just one safety measure to consider before you and your child start grilling. It’s vital to follow the rules, as you’re modeling behaviors for your child and future cook. They will be safe themselves if they mirror the proper actions from you.
Never walk away or otherwise leave your lit grill without supervision. Always have fire safety accouterments on hand, such as an extinguisher and blanket. Never grill indoors, no matter how small of an appliance you’ve purchased. Every grill will release smoke and carbon monoxide into the air. Breathing that is unsafe for both you and your child.
Once you’ve finished cooking, don’t get distracted by the meal you’ve prepared and want to eat. Instead, shut down the grill and make sure every single burner is off before you sit down at the table. Wait for the charcoals to cool down completely before removing them from the grill, too.
2. Prepare Food Properly
A slew of diseases and viruses can pass through improperly prepared or handled food, including the avian flu and parasitic worms. No one wants to deal with any of these side effects, so be sure you’re prepping your dinner safely and sanitarily.
It starts with food storage pre-grilling — never place your meat or seafood into the fridge as packaged by the grocery store. Instead, put everything into plastic bags to prevent items from dripping and contaminating other foods. When it’s time to cook, keep the raw meats on a single plate and ditch the dish once it’s on the grill. Put cooked food onto a clean platter to protect it from contaminants. Grab new utensils to serve your meal — if you’re cooking veggies on the side, use a separate tool for that, too.
You should also remind your little helpers that it’s important to pay attention and safely handle cooking utensils. Depending on how young they are, you must warn them about the danger of the fire burning inside the grill. All your reminders will serve to make them safer in the kitchen and down the line when they cook for themselves.
3. Get the Kids Involved With Prep
Depending on how old your child is, they can help you out in the grilling process. For obvious reasons, you probably don’t want very young children hanging out beside the grill and helping you cook over an open flame. However, your little ones can still be of aid to you, particularly in the prep process.
Let’s say you want to grill kebabs for dinner. Your young children can piece together the skewers with veggies, while the grown-ups put meat on the sticks. You can also enlist your kids to be a sort of waiter or delivery person, carrying the platter grill-ready foods to you.
This participation will certainly spark an interest in your kids — they will want to contribute more as they get older. With time, practice and improved dexterity, they can. Supervise as they learn to cut and prep food. Then, when they reach their teenage years, allow them to try grilling under your watchful eye.
To get teens ready for such a responsibility, show them the inner workings of the grill first. Perhaps they can ignite it or read the thermometer to ensure it’s hot enough. A teen can certainly flip burgers or remove them from the grates. Don’t allow them to oversee a meal from start to finish until they’ve mastered safe food prep, temperature requirements and everything else to ensure they’re serving safe, delicious food.
4. Choose Fun Recipes
Another way to get your kids excited about grilling is to let them choose what’s on the menu. You won’t be wanting for choice as you search for grill-ready recipes, either. Of course, you might have to wait a bit for their palettes to expand beyond the typical hamburgers and hot dogs. Once they do, though, they’ll love to scope out new recipes to try.
Take, for example, fall-ready recipes that you can grill up together. Your kids will love barbecued chicken, grilled sweet potatoes and even fired flatbread. The adults will enjoy a bit of variety in their family grilling menu.
As your kids become more interested in cooking, you can make the recipe selection part of the fun. Allow one child to pick dinner once a week, so long as they help with the preparation of their chosen platter. Again, this will give you an extra set of hands in the kitchen, but it will spark their interest in helping out, too.
5. Try Non-Grill Alternatives
Grilling might not be for everyone — or for your young children yet. Keep your eyes peeled for fun cooking alternatives to tide you over until you can do all the above. For instance, if you want a flavor as delicious as grilled meat without the open flame, you might consider investing in a smoker. An electronic version of a smoke pit is safer and easier to use.
You might get your kids involved in the kitchen in other ways, too. Perhaps they can start out baking to spark an interest — not many children dislike sweets. Once they learn the basics of measuring, mixing and carefully cooking, they might be ready to move on to becoming grill helpers.
Some parents might also consider starting a backyard garden to foster a love of fresh food. Your children can easily partake in the planting and upkeep of a fruit or veggie garden. Then, when it comes time to eat the produce from their harvest, they’ll be thrilled. You might not even have to barter to get them to eat their veggies.
At first, it may have seemed an odd idea to have your kids help you out while you grill. It may feel like too dangerous of an appliance for children to learn to use. However, a steady approach to food education — starting with prep and leading to bona fide cooking — will ensure your kids become grill masters down the line. Then, you can look forward to the day they grill for you.
Better yet, such a family activity will give you and your kids something to bond over. Then, once you’re done, you have a meal that you can enjoy together. That’s what family life is all about, so get started on your grilling lessons whenever your kiddos are ready.