Cooking with kids can feel daunting (the knives! the mess!). But these bite-sized tasks are perfect for getting children of all ages into the kitchen.
A recent survey by Uncle Ben’s Beginners found that 90% of parents believe it’s important for their kids to cook, but only 1/3 actually cook with their kids on a weekly basis. Parents said they’d cook with their kids more often if:
- they had more time
- their kids were more interested
- they had better culinary skills
- it didn’t make so much of a mess
With three kids under 10, I’ll be the first to agree that cooking with your kids can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. It does require more clean up and more patience than cooking on your own. Not only do you have to help guide young kids with every step, you may not always agree on which ingredients to include in a dish. And when school-age kids discover that you’re making a salad instead of brownies, they may suddenly disappear.
But I also know that time spent together in the kitchen is meaningful. Cooking can help kids learn everything from math and reading skills to basic chemistry and nutrition. (Not to mention… how to cook!) Here are some ideas for getting kids of all ages to spend more time with you in the kitchen.
2-3 year olds:
(note that all of these steps should be done with adult supervision)
- Adding ingredients: Little ones can add and stir in ingredients.
- Mashing: Put an avocado or banana in a plastic bowl and give your enthusiastic toddler a large fork to mash it with.
- Squeezing: If you need lemon or lime juice added to a dressing or marinade, let your tyke give it a squeeze over a small bowl. You can remove any pits and then add to the recipe.
- Microwaving: When I defrost frozen vegetables my little one helps by standing on a sturdy stool, puts the veggies in the microwave, and then counts down until it’s cooked.
3-5 year olds:
- Whisking: You may still need to help with the egg cracking, but little ones can definitely whisk it up for you. Give them a kid-sized whisk or fork to do the job.
- Taste testing: Kids love to offer up their expert opinion on everything and asking for their thoughts on how the dish tastes and whether it needs more salt, spice, etc. will keep their culinary interest piqued.
- Cutting shapes: Cookie cutters don’t just work on dough. They can also be used to cut shapes out of jicama, bell peppers, melon, bread and more. Some of my family’s faves are moustache and bow-tie cookie cutters.
- Washing: If you have a sturdy stool for them to stand on, little kids can help wash produce and rinse beans and lentils. It’s a good opportunity to talk about food safety and it also reinforces the importance of general cleanliness.
6-8 year olds:
- Meal planning: Give your kid a theme and let them plan the meal! The theme can relate to something they’re learning in school. For example, my third grader is studying China soon, so we’ll be attempting some Chinese dishes at home. Other themes can center on colors, like an all “purple” or all “green” night. Don’t worry about combos being too weird—kids are pretty enthusiastic about trying foods they’ve had a hand in making.
- Shopping: As long as they don’t go in hungry, school-aged kids do pretty well at the grocery store. They will feel super confident if you let them keep track of the list, either on paper or on your phone.
- Doing the math: Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all come into play when you’re cooking. Now that my oldest daughter is 8, she’s much more interested in helping me cook than when she was little, because she likes finding the right measuring cups for the recipe we’re making.
9-11 year olds:
- These kids can do pretty much anything with your supervision. Try gifting them a set of safety knives, plus a personalized apron for the holidays and get ready to have your own sous chef!
Whatever you decide to make with your kids, I hope you have fun and remember—it’s really not about the end result—it’s about spending time together. So, ignore the mess and enjoy the feeling of knowing that you’re a really good parent.