Getting your child involved in the kitchen is a great way to get them knowledgeable about food and excited about healthy eating. Teaching children to cook from a young age encourages them to continue to thrive in the kitchen as they grow older. Cooking provides an avenue for children to learn a variety of important developmental skills beyond just food skills. Through cooking, children learn about healthy eating through understanding and creating balanced meals and snacks as well as basic food skills, such as mixing, scooping and chopping (if they are old enough to use a knife). They learn about language and math from writing grocery lists, reading recipes and measuring out ingredients. They learn about science by understanding food chemical and physical reactions. They learn about social studies by understanding where their food comes from and what foods are grown in different places around the world. They learn social skills through working with others while spending quality time in the kitchen. Lastly, they learn responsibility and the importance of cleaning up after themselves while cooking.
Tips to a Positive Cooking Environment
- Hand Washing – This should always be the first step before starting any cooking in the kitchen. Teaching your child to wash their hands before working with food is an important lesson related to food safety.
- Choose Simple Recipes – Try to choose recipes that have different steps that your child can help you with. Whether it be picking out the ingredients, mixing or chopping, your child can then choose which steps they would like to participate in.
- Provide Specific Tasks – Be specific with individual tasks that need to be done. This way your child can feel independent in accomplishing what they need to do.
- Pressure-Free Environment – Don’t expect your child to try everything that is made. They will likely be more interested overall if they don’t feel pressured to try the food after cooking it.
- Child-Friendly Kitchen – Organize an area of the kitchen where your child feels comfortable and has a few of their own cooking tools (such as a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl, etc.). Having their own utensils and cooking area will allow them to feel independent and successful in the kitchen.
Age Appropriate Cooking Examples
Ages 2-3 – choosing ingredients, washing ingredients and adding ingredients.
Note: Some young children may even enjoy simply holding cooking utensils while watching you cook.
Ages 3-4 – mashing softer foods, mixing ingredients, making their own simpler items (for example, a sandwich).
Ages 4-6 – cracking and beating an egg, slicing/chopping softer foods with a plastic knife.
Ages 6-8 – tossing salad with dressing, creating a smoothie or fruit salad, making their own cereal bowl, writing out the grocery list.
Ages 8-11 – cutting food, using the microwave and stove (with supervision) for simple recipes (for example, making quesadillas or grilled cheese).
Information adapted from Unlock Food.
Eat well, be well
Emma Minden, Registered Dietitian, Wholesome GO