Children and kitchens can sometimes seem to be oil and water, but the only way they’ll learn to cook is by joining you in the kitchen. When children grow into adulthood, they eventually have to rely on themselves for everything, including feeding. Without cooking skills, they will be tempted by drive-thrus, freezer meals, and other less savory eating habits.
Helping in the kitchen builds confidence and early skills of independence. Most kids feel proud and important when they help prepare food. Sharing in family tasks helps them feel that they belong in the family. Children are natural kitchen helpers. They like to share simple tasks of food shopping and picking foods for meals. They enjoy preparing and serving food to the family.
When you start bringing the kids into the kitchen at a young age, they learn that real food is healthful–and made at home. Knowing how to cook wholesome food is a great way to combat obesity, lifestyle diseases and unhealthy habits. Studies have shown that kids who help cook are more likely to try new foods–usually healthier ones. Letting children be in control of a part of the meal, even by allowing them to choose whether you eat carrots or peas for dinner, can help reduce squabbles over eating healthful foods. Making small changes in your cooking routine and trying kid-friendly recipes helps you work little ones into your dinner prep.
Kid Kitchen Safety
- Always wash hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, eggs, or poultry. This is a great time to teach your kids about food safety!
- Never use the same knife, plate or utensil on raw and cooked food, and use one cutting board for meat and another for vegetables.
- Use a clean spoon or fork each time you taste a dish, and never stick your fingers in food you’ll be serving to others.
- When cooking on the stove top, turn all pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove to help prevent a child’s arm or head from knocking it over.
- Wear aprons, roll up sleeves and tie hair back to reduce messes, spills and the risk of fire.
- Teaching proper cutting skills is important. Begin with a plastic knife and show kids how to cut away from their bodies.
- Keep a sturdy stool nearby so your child can easy reach counters.
- Keep oven mitts or hot pads handy at all times. A handle that feels lukewarm to you may be too hot for a youngster.
If somebody does get burned, run it under cold water immediately. Do not place butter or oil on a burn. Consult a doctor if you are uncertain about the severity of the injury.
- Don’t assume your children know how to operate kitchen appliances and utensils. When they’re first learning to use can openers, vegetable peelers, and eventually blenders or mixers, make sure to walk through safe tool use step-by-step.
Now that your kitchen is safe, call in the kid and get to the fun stuff! It’s best to set up an area that your children can call their own. If you’re in a hurry, this tactic contains the mess, and it also makes them feel special while cooking.
Age Appropriate Tasks
At 2 years:
• Wipe tables
• Hand items to adult to put away (such as after grocery shopping)
• Place things in trash
• Tear lettuce or greens
• Help “read” a cookbook by turning the pages
• Make “faces” out of pieces of fruits and vegetables
• Rinse vegetables or fruits
• Snap green beans
At 3 years: All that a 2-year-old can do, plus:
• Add ingredients
• Talk about cooking
• Scoop or mash potatoes
• Squeeze citrus fruits
• Stir pancake batter
• Knead and shape dough
• Name and count foods
• Help assemble a pizza
At 4 years: All that a 3-year-old can do, plus:
• Peel eggs and some fruits, such as oranges and bananas
• Set the table
• Crack eggs
• Help measure dry ingredients
• Help make sandwiches and tossed salads
At 5 years: All that a 4-year-old can do, plus:
• Measure liquids
• Cut soft fruits with a dull knife
• Use an egg beater
Before calling your preschooler into the kitchen with you, gather and prep all ingredients (except those you want your child to help with). Do any chopping or big measuring beforehand, and then set items out in the order the recipe calls for. This will help eliminate those “No, not yet!” moments that just frustrate you both.Your little ones are bound to spill while doing their tasks, so have paper towels and sponges at the ready, and if youre particularly worried, spread newspaper over the counter, table, or floor to make cleanup easy.
But did you also know that cooking gives preschoolers an early grounding in science, math, language, art, and even reading? The kitchen offers abundant lessons in basic chemistry—discovering how certain ingredients combine, react, and change as they cook —as well as arithmetic, since ingredient lists are nothing if not a study in amounts and fractions. Getting your young one to describe what she sees, tastes, and feels feeds her vocabulary, and exposing kids to food’s myriad colors and textures provides them with a whole new creative palette —and palate. Plus, reading through a recipe with your child helps him learn how to follow words from left to right, while beginning to distinguish numbers from letters. And fine-motor skills are enhanced when little fingers tear, stir, and pour.
Let them be creative
Set out three or four healthy foods, and let your kids make a new snack or sandwich from them. Use foods your children can eat without choking.
• A new kind of bread (whole grain or rye)
• Whole grain crackers or graham crackers
• Mini rice cakes or popcorn cakes
• Small bagels
• Small pieces of whole-wheat pita bread
• Fat-free or low-fat cream cheese or cheese spread
• Fat-free or low-fat peanut butter
• Bean dip
• Jelly with no sugar added
• Slices of apple or banana
• Raisins or other dried fruit
• Slices of cucumber or squash
• Cherry tomatoes cut in small pieces