Cooking With Kids Guide

There are a lot of tasks that we like to do with our children, and not all of them include play. While play may be the first thing that we think of, there are other things that we can get our children to “help” out with, and there are benefits to those. Things like helping with the laundry, or cleaning out the car all have a purpose, and they can be useful.

However, it is not uncommon for mom to want to steer clear of involving their children in household tasks because there is the assumption that they can get it done quicker if she just does it themselves.

While this may be true, her children may be missing out on some important life skills that they will carry with them. There is also the added benefit that skills taught earlier are easier to learn and adopt. Cooking is another skill that children should be involved with, but (like with any task), it should be age-appropriate. If you give a child a task that they cannot developmentally handle, they are likely to get frustrated and give up before they even have a chance to try. They will also be more likely to not want to try again in the future.

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For that reason, we have compiled a complete guide to cooking with children. It includes the benefits of helping children in the kitchen, as well as an age-by-age guide on what a child can do based on their current developmental stage.

Benefits Of Children Helping In The Kitchen

Black family cooking
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According to Mommy University, there are a lot of benefits to having children help you in the kitchen, and they are worth taking seriously. At the very basic level, cooking can help children boost their development in almost all areas. It can help their academic, cognitive, and motor skills. Working with ingredients can help develop their fine motor skills, which is important for younger children.

As they cook with you, they are going to learn more about the nutritional value and healthy eating. There is an opportunity for ongoing conversations about what we put in our bodies and what it helps us do. It can also improve their math and reading skills, they have to learn to read a recipe and measure ingredients, which is the most basic lesson when it comes to cooking. It is also a fun way to bond with your child, and spend some quality time together.

What Can They Do: Toddlers

Pregnant woman preparing meal with son from fresh vegetables

Since the earliest a child can possibly help you in the kitchen is when they are a toddler, we are going to start there. According to Mom To Mom Nutrition, there is a lot that toddlers are capable of doing, and the tasks may help them focus. However, what can a toddler do in the kitchen?

A toddler is capable of grating cheese, which is perfect for when you are making pizza or anything that calls for some cheese. It helps their hand-eye coordination, and it works on their focus.

When baking, toddlers are quite capable of stirring and mixing ingredients. A friendly tip is to make sure you use a large bowl, that way there is going to be less spilling over the side. Toddlers are usually eager helpers, and they can be a lot of help in the kitchen.

What Can They Do: Preschoolers

mom and child in kitchen cooking
Credit: iStock / Rawpixel

Preschoolers are a bit more developed than a toddler, but they are still going to be able to handle simple tasks. According to Unlock Food, preschoolers are able to manage smaller tasks, such as peeling hard-boiled eggs and making mashed potatoes. This is a great way to work on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

Preschoolers are also going to be able to pour from a small pitcher or measuring cup, they can help you add ingredients to recipes. They may even be able to make their own sandwich or pizza if the ingredients are open and ready for them.

What Can They Do: School-Aged Child

Closer magazine

When a child reaches school-age, their skills are vastly different from when they were a preschooler, and they are going to be able to do much more in the kitchen. They should be able to use most kitchen appliances, with help. This means that they should be reaching an age where they can handle a knife with caution, and start chopping up some ingredients. They should be able to crack an egg, and they should be learning how to follow a recipe. They can read the recipe, and they can sort out the ingredients that are needed. This is when a child begins to show some independence in the kitchen, but they likely still need supervision and some help.

What Can They Do: Tween

Teaching Your Tween How To Use A Kitchen Knife

Tweens are working on their confidence, and this is when mom can likely give them a lot more independence. This is when mom may be able to drop the reins and let them explore and create in the kitchen.

According to Epicurious, if you have been cooking with your child as they grew up and developed, they should know their way around the kitchen. However, if you haven’t, don’t worry. Tweens should be able to read and follow a recipe on their own. They should know how to make most meals, and how to operate simple kitchen appliances. This may be the time mom wants to teach them how to use the oven, and this is when safety skills come into play.

Mom can practice with her child when the oven is off, and make sure they are taking all the precautions that they need to. A tween should also be able to assemble their own lunch, like a sandwich, without any help.

What Can They Do: Teenager

High schools should offer more courses that teach life skills like cooking and resume writing.
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Teenagers may still need their parents for a lot of things, but they are definitely more independent than any other age on this list. According to She Knows, teenagers should be pretty self-reliant in the kitchen, and at this point, they are able to use the microwave and oven with no supervision.

To help them work on their cooking skills, in preparation for living on their own or navigating college life, put them in the rotation for cooking family dinners. This helps them get creative with meals, and it teaches them how to make a meal. If your teenager doesn’t have any skills in the kitchen, now is the time to start, but even then they should be able to figure it out pretty quickly and efficiently.

Sources: Mommy University, Mom To Mom Nutrition, Unlock Food, Epicurious, She Knows

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