Since I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (a little more than I would like to!) I have always had the kids in the kitchen around me as well. I always placed their playpen in the center of the room. Well, once it was too close to the counter and my younger one grabbed a bowl and smashed it on the floor. Sigh. Lesson learned!
The kids have shown interest in baking and cooking for some time now. Yes, it is primarily the end product that they are really after, especially if I'm baking! But they are becoming more and more interested in the process as well.
What's the Right Age to Start?
I did get nervous having them around the stove, and even though they are older now, I still hesitate to let them get too close. But when they were stuck at home for six months and wanted to start preparing their own lunches, I knew I had to let them get more involved. Of course, I was thrilled that they wanted to become more independent and do things themselves! What more can a mom ask for!
The kids were also more motivated after they had watched some episodes of Junior Baker on the Food Network. Then, finally, they felt like they could cook the same as well! I'm not sure what age those kids started cooking and what training they had! They must have started when they were in diapers.
A lot depends on the parents and how comfortable they are allowing their children to do more advanced techniques like handling a knife or using the stove. For the parents who would prefer a more slow and natural transition into learning this skill, below is a breakdown of how kids can be involved in kitchen work and food preparation by age group.
Kitchen Involvement By Age Group
- Go through grocery flyers and cut pictures out to make a grocery list
- Play kitchen and restaurant. Order food and let them bring it to you to eat. Talk about the toy food and how you make it.
Junior Elementary School Age
- Make a grocery list, and open the fridge to see what's in the fruit and vegetable drawer and what needs to be purchased.
- Wash plastic Tupperware/containers and dishes, utensils that are not sharp
- Rinse some fruit and vegetables
- Pour dry items in a bowl that has been pre-measured but start teaching them about measuring.
Elementary School Age 7 and Up
- Read recipes together
- Help with measuring ingredients
- More help with mixing
- Measuring and pouring liquids
- Give them a cloth to clean up minor spills
The Benefits of Involving Kids in the Kitchen
Following simple cooking and baking recipes together is a great activity to do with the kids and an excellent way to spend some quality time together. There are also many learning opportunities for kids when cooking and baking:
- Math/Measurement – learning about fractions and different units of measure (cups, teaspoons, etc.) for liquids and dry ingredients and oven temperatures.
- Food safety – safe food handling, washing hands before and after, safe food storage to prevent any food going bad.
- Learning an Important Life Skill – by learning to cook and bake at an early age, children will grow to become confident in the kitchen into adulthood. In addition, this life skill will help them when they begin to live independently as they will have control over eating healthier foods and save money by cooking at home.
- Learning about Healthy Food Choices – teaching children about healthy food choices, proper portions, and eating in moderation while cooking together, will help them develop and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy diet.
- Try New Foods – being involved in food preparation may help picky eaters become more accepting of more foods or at least give them a try before deciding if they like them.
Photo by Annie Spratt
How to Get Organized
- Keep it Simple – carefully select simple recipes to do with younger kids just starting to help in the kitchen. By simple, I mean recipes with only a few steps and not too many ingredients. For example, consider looking for recipes with three ingredients, made in just one bowl or entirely made in a blender.
- Create a Space – Try to contain the mess by using one area of the kitchen or one section of a counter space only. Keep sharp objects away and leave enough distance from the stove.
- Share the Tasks – Siblings tend to argue over tasks. It can get frustrating and take the joy out of the activity. Try to pre-plan who will be responsible for each step of the recipe.
- Be Prepared – make sure you are in the mood and ready to do this! Yes, it should be fun, but doing this activity with kids requires patience, especially with the younger kids. There will also be more mess than you would like, which results in more work for mom. Try your best to accept this and focus on the positive.
Tips from Other Moms
- Expect everything to take longer than it usually would so set aside extra time for cooking, particularly for younger children. The journey is as much fun as the destination!
- Put them in clothes you don't mind getting dirty or use an apron and tie back long hair.
- As you're cooking, talk about ingredients and their origins, processes, and techniques. It's good for fine motor skills and coordination too.
- Plan ahead and make something that the kids love to eat. Write down the grocery list with them, so they know what they need for the ingredients.
- Use kid-friendly cooking tools like rounded butter knives and plastic spatulas.
- Take photos of what they have made and share them with family and friends to help build confidence.
- Introduce pretend play sets such as velcro cutting fruits and vegetables for kids pre-school and younger.
- Let them help set the table for meals.
- Assemble sandwiches and make salad platters together.
- You can allow elementary-age kids to make their own sandwich/ wrap by themselves.
- You can ask them to help you give you the ingredients from the fridge or pantry.
- Kids can help wash fruits and vegetables, as well as peel the vegetables.
- Prepare some of the major steps of the recipe before you start cooking with the kids if they are younger.
- Let them do a few easy steps like making dough balls for cookies, whisking, mixing, adding chocolate chips, decorating, etc.
- Having patience is the key to your kids' interest in any task!
Nadia is an M.B.A. graduate and freelance writer. She also likes to write about all aspects of mom life, co-authors the blog This Mom Is On Fire, and advocates for better dementia healthcare for seniors.