Among the many skills that we parents need to teach our kids, one that sometimes gets overlooked is cooking. Teaching your kids to cook not only will help them to become more independent, but can also help to ease your burden as well. So, I’ve put together some tips and suggestions on how to involve your kids in the cooking, including different task suggestions for different age groups.
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Feeding our families day in and day out can be a lot of work. For some of us it is a natural process, but for others it can feel like a burden. No matter where you are on that spectrum, I am a big fan of inviting our kids into the kitchen to help. Not only is it nice to get some support, but it is also an opportunity to teach your kids life skills that will serve them well for years to come
To help you to determine the best activities in the kitchen I put together a list of activities that will help you to get a grasp on how to involve kids in cooking and I have divided the list up by age group so that you can easily find great activities that will interest and engage your kids.
How to Involve Your Kids in Cooking: Setting Up for Success
Before we jump into the different cooking activities that kids can do at each age and stage, I wanted to share some general tips on how to successfully cook with kids.
Give Them Space
In my experience, kids embrace and enjoy learning a new skill much more when they are taught how to do it and then are given the space to practice either on their own or with limited supervision. I have also noticed that when it comes to cooking, parents tend to want to hover in order to make sure things are done just right and also to make sure that their kids are safe.
So, in order to give kids the space they need/desire, I recommend two things: 1) show them how it’s done and then distract yourself with another task nearby so that you are available to help if they need it; and 2) use the suggestions below which are all based on developmental ability, so you can be confident that they are safe.
Embrace the Mess
When kids cook, mess happens. Period. If, like me, you like to keep the kitchen as tidy as possible, even when cooking, this can be a challenge. But getting on their cases about the mess risks souring the mood of the moment. So, instead, I encourage you to take a deep breath and embrace the mess, trusting that it will all be cleanable later.
Pro tip: If you want to both keep the mess to a minimum and avoid hovering in order to give your kids the autonomy they desire when practicing their new cooking skills, consider busying yourself with tidying up at least some of the mess as they cook.
As with any new skill, there is a learning curve with each cooking skill, which means that while a task that may seem simple to you, it will be new and challenging to them. This may very well result in sloppy or inexact outcomes – diced vegetables might not be uniform in size, a little more or less of an ingredient might make it into the bowl, cookies might not be as consistent in shape or size, etc. As much as possible, embrace these imperfections as part of the process and try very hard not to comment on it as this can shake (or even shatter) confidence in the skills you are trying to teach them.
Cooking Tasks By Age Group
Not only do preschoolers want to help, but they love to have ownership over a task! Here are some activities that you can give them to do that don’t require close supervision, but will actually save you time.
- Pulling fresh herbs off their stems
- Tearing up greens for a salad
- Combining dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
- Washing produce
- Roughly chopping soft ingredients (bananas, cucumbers, cheese, etc.) with a kid-safe knife
Younger School-Aged Kids
Younger school-aged kids are more coordinated than they used to be and can follow multi-step directions, which makes them ready for some more complicated tasks.
- Measuring wet and dry ingredients
- Mixing wet and dry ingredients
- Peeling vegetables
- Chopping vegetables (if you feel comfortable with their knife skills or get them a kid-safe knife)
- Reading recipe steps out loud
- Scooping/distributing cookie batter (if you are comfortable with erratic sizes)
- Decorating cookies (if you are comfortable with messy decorations)
- Arranging platters
- Setting the table
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Tweens wants to be trusted with important tasks and will rise to the occasion. They also crave autonomy, so giving them space to cook and showing you trust them is going to be especially important here. Traditions can mean a lot to this age group, so teaching them a favorite recipe can be really appealing and meaningful.
- Chopping vegetables (start with having them use a paring knife or kid-safe knife if you aren’t confident of their knife skills)
- Making a simple recipe from start to finish
- Scooping/distributing cookie batter
- Decorating cookies
- Tending to things on the stove (if you are comfortable)
- Using a hand beater for cakes, whipped cream, etc.
Independence is what it’s all about, so assign them a dish or a type of dish and let them pick the recipe themselves to prepare from start to finish.
How do you involve your kids in the cooking? Share your ideas in the comments!
Want further inspiration and ideas on how to get your kids involved in the cooking? Check out my post on how I got my kids to make dinner once a week!