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 play pen 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 been showing interest in baking and cooking for quite some time now. Yes, it is mostly 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.
People are eating/cooking more at home thanks to meal kits, grocery delivery, and accessibility to recipes and cooking videos online. New appliances like Instant Pots and Air Fryers are also making cooking at home easier and more efficient for busy families.
A recent study sponsored by Taste at Home found that 68% of people post-pandemic prioritize healthy meals and quality ingredients; 81% enjoy cooking more now than before the pandemic.
Summer is the perfect time to invest the extra bit of energy to pick up a new routine with the kids to maintain once school is back in session.
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 6 months and wanted to start preparing their own lunches, I knew I had to let them get more involved. Of course I was also overjoyed 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. They felt like they could cook the same as well! I’m not sure what age those kids started cooking and what kind of 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, 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, utensil that are not sharp
- Rinse some fruit and vegetables
- Pour dry items in a bowl that have 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 a nice way to spend some quality time together. There are also many learning opportunities for kids when cooking and baking:
1. Math/Measurement – learning about fractions and different units of measure (cups, teaspoons etc.) for liquids and dry ingredients, oven temperatures
2. Food safety – safe food handing, washing hands before and after, safe food storage to prevent any food going bad
3. 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. This will help them when they live independently as they will have control over eating healthier foods and save money by cooking at home
4. Learning about Healthy Food Choices – by teaching children about healthy food choices, proper portions and eating in moderation while cooking together, these will help them develop and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy diet
5. Try New Foods – by being involved in food preparation, this may help picky eaters develop an acceptance towards more foods or at least give them a try before deciding if they like them or not
- Encourages kids to try a variety of foods, including healthier ones
- Helps educate them on the food cycle and how food is made or grown
- Reduces waste since they are more likely to eat the food they have made
- Gives an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family, leading to family bonding and better mental health
- A stronger connection to your children, which can help prevent/resolve emotional and behavioral issues
- Opportunity to show real-life applications of science, math, and reading
- Establish family traditions and routines that help create trust and security in children and strengthens family bonds and culture
- The act of creating boosts their self-confidence and helps give them the skills to be self-sufficient in the kitchen and other areas later in life
How to Get Organized
1. 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. Consider looking for recipes that are 3 ingredients, or made in just one-bowl, or fully made in a blender.
2. 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 space from the stove.
3. Share the Tasks – Siblings tend to argue over tasks. It can get really frustrating and take the joy out of the activity. Try to pre plan who will be responsible for each step of the recipe.
4. 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 also requires quite a bit of patience. Especially with the younger kids. There will also be more mess than you would like there to be, which results in more work for mom. Try your best to accept this and focus on the positive.
Tips for Cooking With Kids
- Demonstrate safety first and, when possible, use tools that are designed for smaller chefs; for example: plastic knives (you can also invest in these affordable options by LUOLAO and Tovla) or a real blade for older kid chefs (like this one by Kibbidea), cut-resistant gloves, and a learning tower to raise a child to the appropriate counter height are all great considerations
- Use FUNctional cooking utensils, like these ones designed by OTOTO; our recommendations: Nessie ladles, Spaghetti Monster colander, Mon Cherry measuring spoons, and Magic Mushroom kitchen funnel
- Establish a frequency that kids can look forward to; don’t feel the pressure to schedule it weekly, it can be monthly; the important thing is to schedule it in advance so it doesn’t fall to the wayside
- Plan your recipes with your family ahead of time so that the kids feel they have input and are more invested in the outcome of the experience
- Reference websites or cookbooks that feature recipes geared toward kid cooks (you can also reference an “what age” chart to review what tasks your kids may be ready for, like this example)
- Shop for the groceries for said recipe together and use the opportunity to visually teach your children what the food looks like before it gets to their plate (for older kids, you can teach them how to pick it as well)
- For extra credit, select recipes that feature seasonal items that you can pick/buy yourself from a local farm
- Too daunting to make a whole meal? Make dessert together (even from a box), or popcorn.
- Want to cook without all the mess and planning? Sign up for a cooking class with your kid!
Tips from Other Moms
1. 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!
2. Put them in clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or use an apron and tie back long hair.
3. As you’re cooking, talk about ingredients and their origins, cooking processes and techniques. It’s good for fine motor skills and coordination too.
4. 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
5. Use kid friendly cooking tools like rounded butter knives and plastic spatulas
6. Take photos of what they have made and share them with family and friends to help build confidence
7. For kids pre-school age and younger, introduce pretend play sets such as velcro cutting fruits and vegetables
8. Let them help set the table for meals
9. Assemble sandwiches and make salad platters together
10. For elementary age kids you can allow them to make their own sandwich/ wrap by themselves
11. You can ask them for their help in giving you the ingredients from the fridge or pantry.
12. Kids can help wash fruits and vegetables, as well as peeling the vegetables
13. Prepare some of the major steps of the recipe before you start cooking with the kids if they are younger
14. Let them do a few easy steps like making dough balls for cookies, whisking, mixing, adding chocolate chips, decorating etc.
15. Having patience is the key to your kids interest in any task!
Looking for some other activities to do with the kids? Check out this list of fun and affordable activities!