cooking with kids

by Barb on May 31, 2012

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Dealing with a picky eater or a child with food allergies? Needing an extra pair of hands in the kitchen because weekday dinner prep time is so short? Teach your kids to cook alongside you.

I’m no expert though I’ve been cooking with my kids for about 10 to 11 years now. It takes time, and you need to be willing to deal with messes. Start when you’re not stressed about getting dinner on the table, and give your child something simple to do. Even a 3 year old can help prepare a salad by washing the lettuce and scrubbing the carrots.

My 5 year old cutting up tomatoes

My 5 year old cutting up tomatoes

I start my kids on knife skills around 3.5 to 4 years of age. Usually, they express an interest first, and then we try softer fruits and veggies. I also encourage them to use a butter knife to butter their toast, put peanut butter on bread, and cut their own food at dinner time. I always walk through the safety rules first like putting the veggie on the cutting board to cut it rather than holding it in your hand. Always keep an eye on your work. Around the same time, I teach the kids to peel carrots and potatoes to help with hand eye coordination.

making tuna fish

Making Tunafish

My kids also like to help with mixing foods like tunafish and pancake batter. I always use a deep bowel to prevent the food from splashing out of it. Even though the kids have small hands, I find the bigger metal spoons work well for getting through the thicker pancake batter.

At a slightly older age, I encourage my kids to learn to make foods from scratch. This summer, I’ll be working with my 8 year old on learning to make several recipes like baked parmesan chicken and buttered noodles. He’s already learned how to make tunafish and has his own special version he likes to make.

Making pesto

Making pesto

During the summer, all of my kids help with preserving food. We have a 14-bed vegetable garden plus a number of fruiting vines and trees, all of which is harvested and preserved with canning, dehydrating, or freezing. Not only do the kids help with picking fruits and veggies, they also like to wash the produce, trim it, and run it through the food mill if needed. I do the stovetop chores like cooking jam and put the jars in the steam canner or pressure canner.

I know it can seem a little scary to hand a 4 year old a knife to cut up veggies. However, if you plan on working along side of them and supervising them while encouraging them, you’ll create memories and teachable moments.

Do you encourage your kids to help you in the kitchen and what age do they start helping?

For more posts on cooking with kids check out Smockity Frocks and Kids in the Kitchen.

Other Cooking with Kids posts

Meet Barb

Barb Hoyer has written 3660 posts.

After working in the fundraising world for over ten years, Barb is an avid runner, writer, photographer, parent volunteer, and lover of dictionaries and thesauruses. Wife to an engineer and mom to 5 kids, Barb lives in the suburbs of Philly. Her idea of relaxation is an afternoon on the couch with a stack of books.

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Darla from HeartWork Organizing May 31, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Great post. It’s hard to know when kids are ready to do something. I’ve been letting my preschoolers butter toast, but I still keep them away from the sharp knives. They absolutely love to mix anything. And I am no longer allowed to crack eggs; that has become their job alone. I’ve come to think cooking is like sex; kids need age-appropriate info when they need it, but it certainly shouldn’t be off the table. (BTW, my preschoolers knowledge of sex is that there are boys and there are girls.)

Jessica Delaware County Moms May 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Love it Barb! My kids also help in the kitchen & they love it! It usually depends on what we’re having for dinner as to what they can really do, sometimes its just washing veggies but my daughter loves to help chop veggies! My daughter started to make her own lunch in kindergarten and I rarely make it any more. My 4 yo son also likes to make his own peanut butter or cheese sandwich.

Nichole May 31, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Great tips! My little one just turned 3 last month. He’s been “helping” here and there for awhile. Like I might let him pour pasta into a pot or help to mix things. He absolutely loves his play kitchen we got him for Xmas and mimics so much of what we do.

Becky June 1, 2012 at 12:35 am

My little one (20 months old) desperately wanted to help with slicing watermelon the other day. So, I grabbed the smallest cutting board, gave her some already scraped out watermelon and one of her spoons. I set her up on the floor and there was stickiness everywhere by the end. But, it’s helping her to develop a love of food and preparing it. I can’t wait to see what she does as she gets older.

kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing June 19, 2012 at 4:22 am

Thank you for linking with Kids in the Kitchen – enjoy seeing your little chef’s at work!

Jaime @ Slightly Steady January 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

So many good ideas here! My kids were introduced to veggies really young – it helps to let them just eat the tomatoes right off the vine! My kids are still too young to help out much – but I definitely will keep these in mind for the future!
Jaime @ Slightly Steady recently posted..Scene: Like Mother, Like Daughter

Barb January 17, 2014 at 9:04 am

Thanks! You just reminded me of something my nephew used to do when he was really little. Initially we had our vegetable garden at my in-law’s house. My nephew would wander through the tomato plants picking and eating the ripe cherry tomatoes.

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