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Cooking with Children

Cooking with Children

Cooking with children will teach your young ones to prepare their own food and give them important skills and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a fun way for the family to spend time together and for you to teach important lessons about kitchen safety and nutritious eating habits.

Cooking with kids is not only fun, but it also offers opportunities for learning. Here are just a few reasons to teach kids to cook:

  • Promote good nutrition. Seeing what goes into a recipe helps kids learn to make better decisions about the food they eat.
  • Encourage adventurous eating. Fixing their own food can encourage fussy eaters to try new foods. Kids are more willing to taste foods that they have helped to prepare.
  • Demonstrate kitchen and food safety. Cooking with kids helps them to understand the importance of washing their hands and other safety precautions, such as never touching a hot pan or always cutting properly with a knife
  • Bolster reading and speech skills, along with confidence. Kids can develop language skills as they learn to read a recipe, follow the instructions and discuss new foods and cooking techniques. They’ll build their vocabulary with new words, such as knead, mince and sauté, and build confidence with each culinary success.
  • Practice math skills. Kids can learn math skills through counting, measuring and following step-by-step directions
  • “Experiment” with science. The kitchen becomes a science lab as kids see how food changes during preparation and cooking. They can learn about hot and cold, floating and sinking, dissolving, rising, melting and freezing.

Ready to get started? Review these tips for cooking with children before your next time together in the kitchen.

Take your role as “head chef” seriously. When cooking with children, closely supervise kids to head off potentially dangerous mishaps and to teach them how to keep food safe. Review some of these safety rules before you begin cooking:

  • Point pot handles toward the back of the stove when cooking.
  • Never put knives or other sharp objects into a sink full of water. Someone could reach in and get hurt.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from water to avoid shocks. Never plug in or unplug electrical appliances with wet hands.
  • Never add water to a pan that has hot oil in it. It could make the oil splatter and burn someone.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Don’t put cooked food on an unwashed plate or cutting board that was used with raw food. Always use a clean plate and clean utensils.
  • Keep dishtowels, potholders and paper and plastic packaging away from the range top and oven so they don’t catch fire.

Assign age-appropriate tasks. Kids as young as 3 can help with simple tasks such as stirring a bowl of ingredients or tearing up lettuce for a salad. As kids get older, they can take on increasing responsibility, and teens can prepare many recipes by themselves. See Cooking Skills by Age.

Be strategic about nutrition. Most kids don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Have them lend a hand in preparing these foods because they’ll be more likely to eat them.

Make it a learning experience. Cooking with children can help kids learn nutrition lessons about the food they’re preparing. For example, milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium that helps build strong bones and teeth, while fruits, vegetables and whole grains have fiber that promotes regular bowel movements. Read recipes together and discuss the meaning of new words such as “knead” and “sauté.” Work on their math skills by giving them tasks such as measuring ingredients or counting the number of strokes when hand-mixing batter. Share the fruits of your labor. Sharing your culinary creation gives you time to talk and reinforces cooking as a positive experience and an accomplishment for kids. As a bonus, the family might enjoy cooking together so much that you do it more often and rely less on eating out or taking out—a step toward better nutrition for everyone.

Cooking with Kids: Ideas for All Ages

Age Cooking Tasks Calcium-Boosting Recipes
3 years
  • Wash fruits and vegetables.
  • Stir ingredients in bowl.
  • Tear lettuce.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese on a casserole or salad.
  • Stir small pieces of fruit into yogurt.
4 years
  • Mash bananas with a fork or potato masher.
  • Open packages.
  • Peel oranges or hard-cooked eggs.
  • Knead bread.
  • Use animal cookie cutters to make cheese slices fun shapes.
  • Mix fresh herbs into plain yogurt. Use as a dip for fresh veggie strips.
5-6 years
  • Measure ingredients.
  • Cut soft foods with a table knife.
  • Garnish food.
  • Set the table.
  • Find ingredients in a cabinet.
  • Practice pouring milk from a pitcher into glasses. For a flavor boost, squeeze in some chocolate syrup and stir.
  • Cut cheese slices into small squares with a table knife to make cheese and cracker mini sandwiches.
7-8 years
  • Help plan the meal.
  • Roll and shape cookies.
  • Beat ingredients with a whisk.
  • Make mini pudding tarts. Measure milk and follow instructions to make instant pudding mix. Spread pudding on graham crackers and top with a spoonful of fruit filling, such as cherry or strawberry.
9-12 years
  • Open cans.
  • Use a microwave oven (with adult supervision).
  • Prepare simple recipes with few ingredients.
  • Use an oven (with adult supervision).
  • Use a knife (with adult supervision).
  • Shred cheese and vegetables.
  • Make fruit and cheese kabobs. Cut fruit into chunks and cheese into cubes. Skewer fruit and cheese on toothpicks.
  • Top a veggie pizza with shredded cheese; bake as directed (with adult supervision when using the oven).

Helping kids learn to cook is a great way to teach them about nutrition, and they may acquire new skills along the way that they can take to other areas of their lives. To get started, be sure to check out some of our recipes for kids, kids activities and cooking videos at My Food and Family.

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