Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

What Kids Can Really Do in a Real Food Kitchen at Every Age {GUEST POST}

March 7th, 2012 · 29 Comments · Kids in the Kitchen

This is a guest post from Jami of Eat Nourishing. An absolutely inspiring guest post, I might add. I need to talk to my 7yo son about doing dishes, methinks…he’s been unloading since he was 3 or 4, as you see below, but we kind of got stuck there.

If you’ve been cooking traditionally for any amount of time, you’re bound to have run into challenges: challenges of resources, challenges of abilities, challenges of knowledge and challenges of time, especially if you are like me and are playing catch up trying to figure out the whole homemaking thing after coming to a conviction that having a career outside of the home probably wouldn’t best serve your family. I’ve been reading blogs, books, mentoring under godly women and everything for the past five years and still feel like I have a long way to go, but I have learned a few golden nuggets along the way.

Probably one of the most valuable tidbits I learned when running a traditional real foods kitchen is that you shouldn’t try to do everything yourself, if you can help it. That’s right, we need to let those controlling tendencies go. Delegate and teach. Not only do we (eventually) get a little much needed assistance, but we educate our children along the way about the importance of nutrition and having the discipline to make wise choices about our food preparation.

I happen to have two little girls, ages seven and three, who will likely grow up and have to run a household someday. They enjoy playing mommy and basically being my shadow. I take this time to teach them valuable skills in the kitchen now, so they won’t have to learn them later, plus I get a little relief. Okay, sometimes it’s not much of a relief when I know I can do something in less than half the time it will take them, but it is worth it for the skills they are receiving. I also have a little boy that I want to teach to do his part of household chores as well.

Getting your children to work in the kitchen (and actually enjoy it!) is not as difficult as you may think. Start small and work your way up, gently instructing them and thanking them for their help along the way. I am going to give you a few practical ideas that I use with my children, but some of them I’m saving for when they are a little older and more skilled. Obviously, you know what your children are capable of more than I do, so use your own discretion. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Get creative thinking of ways to get your children involved in the kitchen.

Most of all, remember you are investing in your children now so that you both will be rewarded later, them with valuable kitchen skills and you with some much needed help.

This ties in so perfectly with this week’s Monday Mission – thanks, Jami!

Ages 18 months to 3 years
silverware

The Dude putting away silverware – 2yo

During this time, your children will need guidance, instruction and a lot of help, but can do quite a bit. You might be surprised!

  • Put away and sort clean silverware (I take out the sharp knives first)
  • Put silverware into the dishwasher
  • Rinse some dishes–just not heavy or bulky ones
  • Scoop out beans and grains into a bowl
  • Stir non hot items
  • Shake out the tablecloth
  • Hold the dust pan
Ages 4 to 6 years
grains

Jellybean measuring rice out to soak – 3.5 yo

Children should be able to do all of the above with less guidance and help needed, but will still require significant instruction for below items.

  • Measuring out grains, beans and flour and the stuff to soak them in. This is a great opportunity to teach them about fractions! After a few times, I could tell my daughter that we needed to soak 2 cups of beans and she was able to measure them, put them in a bowl, rinse, fill with warm water, add lemon juice and cover. She did the work, I only had to tell her how much. Yea!
  • dishes

    Pickle Pie and Jellybean doing dishes – 7yo & 3.5 yo

    Washing (probably not the best washing and you may have to go over it again afterward) off the table, counters and other kitchen surfaces. (No more getting on hands and knees to get those baseboards!)

  • Stirring hot things with supervision
  • Setting timers
  • Rinsing all but the heaviest dishes
  • Pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator and cabinets that are needed to prepare the meal.
  • Roll out dough and cut shapes
  • Press the buttons to process things in the food processor and blender
  • Clear the table of dirty dishes
  • Set the table
Ages 7 to 10
eggs

Pickle Pie making breakfast – 7 yo

By this time, if you have been training your child for some time, they should be familiar with kitchen practices and be a significant help in the kitchen.

  • Unload and load the dishwasher
  • Wash dishes by hand–unless they are particularly difficult to wash items
  • Dry and put away dishes
  • Sweep the kitchen floor
  • Prepare scrambled or boiled eggs by themselves
  • Cut up some veggies and fruits that are not too hard or slippery

    flour

    Pickle Pie and Jellybean grinding flour – Ages 6yo and 3 yo

  • Grind flour
  • Soak grains, beans, nuts and flour
  • Prepare foods for the dehydrator
  • Help prep for lactofermenting
  • Make a batch of kefir, water kefir or kombucha by themselves
  • Make a smoothie by themselves
  • Pull items from the freezer to defrost
  • Prepare simple snacks like Mock Larabars or Homemade Peanut Butter
Ages 11 and up

By this time most children read fairly well and hopefully have a pretty good understanding of how the kitchen works. Supervision in some areas is still necessary, but they should be able to take a lot more responsibility. We hope to give our oldest daughter one meal a day to prepare by this time.

  • Follow real food recipes to prepare simple meals
  • Do pretty much any kitchen chore
  • Begin helping with menu planning
  • Prepare a grocery list based on a menu plan
  • Do just about any preparation for the next day’s meals

Do you have anything to add to this list? What are some of the ways you get your children involved in the daily kitchen duties?

About Jami Delgado

Jami is the editor of Eat Nourishing, the recipe sharing website completely dedicated to real foods! She runs EN with the help of her amazing tech-y husband, Anthony, who is a full time seminary student. Jami has three children that she homeschools while trying to educate herself in her various interests of homemaking, gardening, vocal training, professional writing and classical literature.

Follow on Twitter @EatNourishing

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • Alissa

    I love this list. My kids have helped chop (with butter knives) since they were about 2 and pushing buttons on the appliances is a huge favorite. Of course, I clearly needed to emphasize putting the lid on the blender first… green smoothie explosion all over my kitchen!

    I also have a dear friend with 4 teenagers. Just this week, she blogged about their various skill levels in the kitchen and it was simply inspiring – both in their abilities and in her ability to keep them motivated to be involved. Her rule is “if you help cook, you don’t have to help clean.”
    http://kariskhaos.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/managing-mondays-my-kids-can-cook/

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jen @ TheUnProcessed Kitchen

    I love it!! My son has been picking out the rocks and weird looking beans before they get soaked for several years – it’s totally time to up his job description!

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  • Lisa

    My almost 21 month old loves to help in the kitchen! In addition to what’s mentioned here, she’s helped me pour ingredients from a measuring cup into bowls and mix batter. She sometimes sets the table with safe items. There are so many benefits to having kids help in the kitchen!!

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  • Lynda

    Great post. Growing up with six in the family, all the work was divided. My mom always said she didn’t need a dishwasher, she had all of us.

    I started cooking for the large family and extended relatives when I was 11, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. After that, I was the head cook etc.

    I think it is important for children to have chores and cooking and cleaning are important.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jami @ Eat Nourishing

    It’s amazing what children are able to do when they haven’t been told so much that they are “Too little to do that”. I hope you are all inspired and am enjoying reading what your little ones are already helping with. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Dreena Tischler

    I think you are on the right track. My two older girls have literally grown up in the kitchen. My 15-year old can cook better than most of my friends and make any dish from scratch. My 13 year old no longer has a lot of interest in cooking but CAN cook when required to.

    My theory is that I let them do as much as they can do safely with supervision. My nearly 5 year old will soon be cutting vegetables with a sharp knife; he is cautious and thoughtful. His sister one year younger will be a bit older before taking that responsibility, but that girl is a great washer and shiner. Temperament does make a difference.

    Some of my happiest memories are with my kids in the kitchen. If you are in the habit of shooing them out, I encourage you to try it for 3 weeks and see how much more you are loving each other at the end!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Jami @ Eat Nourishing Reply:

    You are so right! Not only are they learning valuable life skills, but the relationship that is developed is even more important. Spending enjoyable time with the kids and learning together is so rewarding and incredibly memorable.

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  • Becky via Facebook

    Love this article. My boys really help out in kitchen. Both do dishes, dry, and put away. Both can make a simple meal. My 8 year old especially. He makes his own green smoothies. He wants to help with whatever I am making. I remember when he was about 6 I got him his own knife as a gift. He was thrilled. Now my nephew (who we watch and is almost 2) helpes us too. It is so cute.

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  • Katie

    “I happen to have two little girls, ages seven and three [...] I also have a little boy that I want to teach to do his part of household chores as well.”

    I’m assuming that your son is just much younger than your daughters (under eighteen months, perhaps, as the youngest age on the list of chores) and that you didn’t mean to imply that he won’t be taking part in the same kitchen tasks the girls do. You can’t possibly actually be saying that learning to cook and wash dishes is women’s work, even though that sentence seems to imply that he’ll be learning how to do other, manly chores instead.

    BUT, that aside, this is a great list! Children can do so much more than a lot of adults seem to give them credit for. Even for those of us who know that, though, it can be hard to separate what exactly they can do at what ages. This is a great resource, thank you!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Jami @ Eat Nourishing Reply:

    I didn’t mean to imply that at all, Katie. :) Though I see how it could be read that way. Oops.
    It is super helpful and such a blessing (both to himself and the family) for a man to do all kinds of household chores and kitchen duties. My husband and I share all the household duties. I especially love it when my husband relieves me of cooking about once a week or so. I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive my future daughter-in-law of such a blessing!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    I was 90% sure that’s not how I was meant to read that! ^_^

    My husband never learned to cook or was expected to do much around the house growing up (his mom was a bit of a perfectionist cleanfreak). But I would have him “just start the water so it’s boiling when I get home” and then “here’s a very clearly printed recipe and all the ingredients, could you get this going for me if you beat me home” and now he’s discovered he loves cooking and is always wanting to try new things, like cheesemaking. He makes a mean mousse ^_^ and the house runs so much more smoothly now that we both *can* “do” meals, even if I’m still the primary cook.

    But anyway it was a sensitive issue for awhile which is probably how I managed to misread that. ^_^

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Celine

    What a great list. My oldest has been helping cook since she was 9 – 12 mos though it is really tough with a poorly designed small kitchen with almost no counter space. With two I am afraid I’ve slacked off in letting them help because they both want to be doing something and there simply isn’t room. I am really glad though that my oldest gets to do basic kitchen cooking and cleaning in school. It makes the tasks she occasionally does at home much easier and doesn’t make more work for me in having to redo it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jami @ Eat Nourishing

    I completely understand what you mean. Our kitchen has almost no counter space as well. We ended up tearing out a wall so that we could place a small table in the kitchen to use as an island. This is where the kids do a lot of their prep work, like cutting things up, mixing, soaking and whatnot.
    However, don’t let lack of space discourage you. Not everyone has to be in the kitchen all at once. You can also get creative and see if they can do small tasks in other areas. Ex. Sort through beans at the coffee table, measure out grains and beans for soaking or cutting veggies up in the dining room, wash dishes in the tub (just kidding…sort of–it is a lot easier for them to reach things that way :) just make sure it’s been scrubbed out first).

    [Reply to this comment]

    'Becca Reply:

    I lived for 2 years in a place with no kitchen, and I washed dishes in the shower and rinsed in the bathroom sink! The trick is to have a plastic dishpan; in a tub you could have 2, fill the “wash” one with soapy water and slide it out from under the faucet, then put the “rinse” one under the faucet. That way the dishes never touch the tub. I learned when washing dishes in the bathroom that if I did not scrub out the sink before placing dishes in there to rinse, I would catch any illness my roommate had–because she was spitting into that sink after brushing her teeth–so the sanitation IS important.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julia in West Des Moines, IA

    This is how we did it and it works — my kids are now ages 11 – 18 and everyone can make a meal without me around.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Hannah

    Very helpful article. I have a lot of friends with little right now, and this will be a big encouragement. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Karen

    I totally agree! I love being able to turn to my daughter (14), or my son (10), and being able to ask them to take care of the meal for everyone while I tend to the baby (4 months), or our toddler (2). My son actually has asked several times to help or take over the dinner preparation, and routinely tries to convince visitors to our home, that he can “make a meal for them”. I love your tips for the younger ones and ideas for ways to get them involved early!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • 'Becca

    Great article! My son is 7 and pretty helpful in the kitchen. He likes to pretend that he is running big machines in a factory, or that the mixing bowl is a landscape and he is pushing the hills into the lake as he combines wet and dry ingredients. :)

    Thanks for acknowledging the importance of boys as well as girls learning kitchen skills. My father was kept out of the kitchen (and laundry room) by his mother; he learned to wash dishes in the Army but never has learned to cook and is barely able to work the laundry machines. Between college and marriage he lived in a rooming-house where meals and laundry service were provided–those don’t exist much anymore. My partner, by comparison, loved helping his mom in the kitchen and also got good home ec classes in school, and he can do 95% of the things I can do around the house. (I’d say the reverse is true, too–I can’t do some of the things he does, like fixing machines.) Even in a traditional family with an employed father and at-home mother, the father may need to do some of these tasks–it’s frustrating if every time Mom is sick, Dad can barely heat up canned soup without boiling it over and feeds the kids junk–and of course a boy may grow up to be the less-employable member of a couple and want to be a homemaker, or to be single and need to care for himself.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Farm Mom

    My 3 year old is a great helper – in the kitchen and the rest of the house. She pretty much has the skills mastered for what I have allowed her to do so far, though, and I was trying to figure out what she could do next. Soaking beans and grains sounds like a great idea. Thanks for sharing this list!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sleeping Mom

    My two-year-old likes to help scoop already-chopped food into a mixing bowl (e.g. chopped green onions into a salad bowl). We also have him put dishes in the dishwasher. I’m a big believer in having them involved in daily chores and contribute to the family at whatever level they can. This just prepares them for later on and makes battles and chores less of an issue.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cherish

    A big one I remember was greasing pans from an early age. Tiny thing, but made me feel involved.

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • Kari via Facebook

    When my son was 7, I had a very difficult pregnancy, making getting out of bed near impossible. He took care of breakfast and lunch for himself and his little sister nearly every week day. My husband took care of dinner when he got home from work. Kids can do amazing things in the kitchen, given the right tools and coaching.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Melissa via Facebook

    I know from working with my nieces and nephews, it helps to work on teaching one skill at a time (like breaking eggs into a bowl, or scrambling without making a mess) and then slowly working them into a complete dish.

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • Johanna

    I definitely think kids can do more than we think they can. My four year old can peel a potato, can cut safely with a knife if I cut it first into strips (then he cuts the pieces off), can crack eggs, etc, etc.

    When I was 10 my mom took my older sister to college and was gone for 3 weeks (we lived overseas), I was completely in charge of the kitchen. My mom had a notebook with instructions for each day and lots of things in the freezer, but I was in charge (with Dad’s help)! I loved it ! :)

    (oh, and my husband is in full-time seminary, too, so we have something in common. :) )

    [Reply to this comment]

    Jami @ Eat Nourishing Reply:

    Yes, kids can certainly do more than we realize. I was doing the basic “come help mommy cook” thing where I was leting them stir things and helping cut a bit, but it was actually a friend who has a few daughters of her own (I think the oldest is 11 or 12) who prepare one meal every day for the family. It was her example that inspired me to teach my children to do more than just help, but to do it. Of course, my son is just helping, but my oldest daughter, who is 7, actually does things one her own without supervision or instruction now. After one lesson on making rice, she can do it. After one lesson on making eggs, she can do it. After one lesson on using a recipe, she can follow a simple one. It’s amazing!

    Johanna, isn’t seminary a crazy awesome experience?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Johanna Reply:

    Craze awesome! Perfect description!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kimarie @ The Cardamom's Pod

    I love this! I remember taking over our family meals at age 14 on the mission field, when my mom was very busy helping my dad. It was such a blessing to be completely at home in the kitchen when I became a wife and mother.

    I’ve always had my kids help with dishes and cooking, and my two oldest (15 and 17) are our main meal cookers right now. My youngest four (5, 7, 9, 10) make salads, homemade dressings and dips, fry eggs, shape bread, strain kefir, grind grain and help cut potatoes (I cut the potato in half or quarters first). My middles (12, 13, 14) are the primary kitchen cleaners (all I do is inspect) and they have their specialties that they cook – bread, oven pancake, make peanut butter and fruit butters that we use in place of jelly.

    I’ve known for a few months that I need to increase everyone’s abilities and responsibilities in the kitchen – this post is an encouraging incentive to get going! Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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