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Involving Young Kids in the Kitchen (Beyond Stirring)

cooking with kids

My children, at the young ages of 5, 3, and 1, are little mirrors of the passion I have for cooking. They jump at any chance to do it, and cling to every word as I talk about seasoning, cooking technique, and fresh nourishing foods. I appreciate this as I want these children to grow up knowing how to cook real, healthy foods.

As I involve them in the kitchen I am teaching them how to cook, and it always amazes me how quickly they learn. Even my one year old catches on to what big sister and brother are doing and does her best to follow suit.

cooking with kids

Beyond wanting them to know how to cook, there is the fact that I can spend quality time with them and they are kept busy and within eyesight. So, I try very hard to involve them in the kitchen with me. While I frequently get overwhelmed at the thought of cooking with children, even though I think it is very important, I never look back and regret having cooked with them.

Today I am sharing some of the ways I involve them, divided by age. (All children are different, these are based off of my experience, use your best judgment of course.) I also would love to hear how you involve your young (or older) kids in the kitchen. Please comment with your ideas.

 

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Involving A Newborn In the Kitchen

Woven Wrap/Ergo/Moby – wear them while cooking? Yeah… let’s start with a little older then a newborn. 😉

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Cooking with Young Toddlers/Babies

  • Sampling– You would not want to use a BAD tasting banana in an smoothie, would you?
  • Organizing– Ok, so I know “toddler” and “organizing” should not be used in a sentence, but toddlers are often love putting item X into bowl Y. One piece a time, and with some encouragement not to eat it. But, hey, they’re learning.
  • Washing Produce– Put that scrub brush to work!
  • Washing Dishes– Anyone else love to wash dishes with a baby in the other sink? They can “help” of course. Give them a lid or plastic spoon.
  • Peeling off loose skins of garlic and onions– I actually had never thought to do this until the other day. But, my 15 month old thought peeling an onion was the absulotely most amazing thing ever and made sure she held up every piece so I, and her older siblings, could admire her work.
  • Stirring– I said these were ideas that went beyond stirring, not that it wasn’t a really great thing for kids to do.
  • Holding produce/utensils/bowls- So they can hand you that cabbage the second you need it (after you get their attention of course).
cooking with kids

Cooking with Toddlers

  • The ideas listed under baby/toddler with adaptations based on age.
  • Push buttons- Congratulations your life just got easier, you will never have to turn on a food processor or blender on by yourself ever again. Unless it is during nap time, then WHY are you blending something?
  • Cutting Bananas (or other very soft foods) with a butter knife- I sometimes will let them do this even if I don’t need bananas if I am really needing to keep a young kid busy. I don’t do this unless I am fine with them eating whatever they are cutting, because otherwise it is too frustrating for everyone.
  • Spreads– Spread nut butters on bread or bananas, spread icing on a cookie, etc.
  • Stacking- A task that can go beyond blocks. I don’t mean to brag, but my daughter at two could make an AMAZING cucumber and hummus tower using her stacking and spreading skills.
  • The seasoning sprinkle- I have found around two to be the perfect age to start teaching the seasoning sprinkle. Grab the spices and evenly sprinkle over foods. Only do this when “evenly” is not actually very important.
  • Dumping- Hand them the cup of rice and let them dump it into the pot.
  • Putting Away groceries- It is a good practice in putting things where they belong. I can start teaching what needs to go where (fridge, freezer, pantry) and why.

RELATED: Navigating Toddler Tantrums

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Cooking with Preschoolers

  • The ideas listed under baby and toddler with adaptations based on ages.
  • Counting- Because you need exactly 1 onion, 2 potatoes, 3 apples, 4 cloves of garlic, 5 carrots, and 6 capers. Not sure what you will make with that, but let the counting practice commence.
  • Spice Mystery- If I don’t know what direction I am going in a dish I will often let one of my older kids pick out a bottle of spices, and go from there.
  • Shopping – I am listing this one here because it is my older two who really get something out of shopping. Shopping is a time I can teach about nourishing foods. I particularly like taking them to the farmer’s market and directly to farms when I can.
  • Simple Produce Prep– I take a few minutes to teach my older kids and then they are doing simple produce prep like stemming mushrooms, peeling bananas, peeling carrots, poking sweet potatoes for baking, etc.
  • Measuring- I actually let them start measuring very young (still on my hip) but my three year old is just now getting to the point of being able to accurately measure ingredients (I don’t usually let her do flour as that is more precise). I show her which spoon and she scoops and levels.
cooking with kids
  • Menu Planning- I (sometimes) ask what my older kids want, and will take it into consideration. They come up with some pretty creative things.
  • Cutting– It is around 3 I let the kids star using sharp knives, with VERY close supervision (usually I am holding it with them) or butter/lettuce knives for softer things. I start teaching proper ways of holding knives, the slicing motion, etc.
  • Taking herbs off of stems- This is perhaps my least favorite kitchen task, but thankfully both my kids love doing it! I usually start them doing this around 2, but by 3 or so I am able to just give it to them and they do it on their own.
  • Shaping- I am pretty sure shaping foods such as bliss balls, cookies, breads, etc. is a preschooler’s dream. I often scoop things with my cookie scoop and let my kids roll them into nice and even balls. If they get to roll the balls into something, all the better.
  • Rolling- Often my three year old is not strong enough to roll with a rolling pin, but I let her and my son take turns rolling out things like crackers.
  • Cooking simple things- My daughter is the official ground beef cooker in our house. She has a little pink mix and chop and uses that thing with pride. She also scrambles eggs, with closer supervision as they quickly over cook.
  • Seasoning Exercises- The creative juices are flowing, often without much experience. I don’t do this super often, but I enjoy when we practice seasoning by tasting foods as we go along and talk about what it needs.
  • So many little things- Basically if she is in the kitchen she will give me ideas of what she can do (“I can do that!”), so she basically does all the little tasks.
cooking with kids

Cooking with Kindergarteners

I am really impressed by how many things my 5 year old can do in the kitchen. I honestly did not know he could be so much help at so young an age! I love cooking with my daughters, but involving them often means extra time. With my son, he is actually a big help.

Because he does so much, I am not going to be making him a list. Basically if it does not involve massive knives, spattering grease, or hot ovens he does it with varying levels of my help. Things like washing, peeling (at least carrots, and stemming kale or mushrooms) produce he does by himself after I teach him how to do it. I can even nurse the baby while he is doing these things, which is such a blessing.

cooking with kids

For more involved things, I am either beside him directing him, or helping far more hands-on (like teaching him knife skills). He has ideas for things he wants to cook, frequently coming up with good ideas.

The four of us basically just cook together as I teach him and Natalia about cooking, and Valerie sits in her chair providing quality control through sampling and doing things like peeling onions and holding vegetables to hand to me.

Christopher has been cooking with me a lot since he was a baby, so he knows many things around the kitchen and helps me teach Natalia. He does all the things I listed in baby, toddler, and preschool section but often with more knowledge and experience.

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Do you enjoy cooking with your kids? How are some ways you include them in the kitchen?

Read about why Wellness Mama teaches her kids how to use knives.

Don’t forget that how your kids think about their food is just as important as their food. Check out this interview with an eating disorder expert and dietitian.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

27 thoughts on “Involving Young Kids in the Kitchen (Beyond Stirring)”

  1. My daughter is three years old and LOVES to help out in the kitchen. She is getting a great handle on the butter knife. I was thinking about purchasing some children’s knives (lettuce knife, blunt end knife, etc…) and other utensils. What is your thoughts on this? Which tools do you feel would be worth the money?

    1. Hi Tiffany, sorry I missed your comment for a few weeks. I personally love my lettuce knife for me, so I’d definitely grab one of those. Beyond that I don’t have any particular knives for my tiny ones – we allow them to use a cheese slicer and it works so well that I haven’t felt the need for more. Although we do have a crinkle cutter, and those are super fun! I’ve listed many kid-friendly ideas here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/kids-cook-real-food-resources/

  2. This is a great reminder and really shows how much your kids have learned from you taking the time to involve them. How do you deal with the mess? There are some things on this list I simply don’t have my kids do because I don’t feel like cleaning up after wards ????. Also I would add grating cheese or veggies to your list. My 2.5 yo is almost able to grate. Also boys esp tend to love doing anything that involves an appliance like a mixer, food processor, blender etc.

    1. For sure Katie! As far as dealing with the mess, it’s just like anything else with kids – it’s an investment in later. Having a baby means more laundry, poopy blow-outs, spit up on your shirt…so you just adapt and deal because you have to. I don’t love it, but I will clean up a little extra so that they can be involved. I also try to teach them good techniques so there is less mess!! 🙂 Katie

  3. I absolutely hate having my kids help me cook! I know that is awful but it’s the truth. It stresses me out so much and I feel terrible because they really want to help. I came across this article when searching for others who also dislike it. I don’t know that I ever will like it but I will try.

    1. Chantal – you are SO not alone! I am running a course on how to teach kids to cook, and even I admit that I don’t always like having my kids in the kitchen. I force myself. Truly. Lots of other parents feel the way you do, for sure. I think one tip for you is to choose a special time outside of meal prep time and schedule something in the kitchen with your kids. Or just one kid! (that’s easier to deal with) If you don’t have the pressure of time to stress you out, that takes a lot of the ick away…I hope! Crossing my fingers for you! 🙂 Katie

  4. What a great article! I don’t have any kids but i have an almost 4 yo niece and almost 2 yo nephew who love to help cook. The little one doesn’t have much of an attention span yet so he doesn’t last long but my niece will stick with you through the whole process. Last time she was visiting we made 4 different kinds of cookies and she helped with dinner several times. She doesn’t like to do the measuring part – she prefers if I scoop and she dumps, but we practice counting (we need four cups of flour so there’s one, then two, etc.) The little one likes dumping too and both are ready to sample any time i want. I actually have a funny video of my niece when she was making a cake with my mom and she stuck her finger in to test, you can hear grandma in the background saying no ann-harmon we don’t taste until it’s in done and then she proceeds to wipe her finger off on the bowl edge.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      Oh, I bet that video is adorable. I could so see my 3yo daughter doing that. I had to stop letting her help me do things with raw meats because of her wanting to taste ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.

  5. I love this article! Thanks! I’ve thought about having one of my children help me when I fix supper, but I’ve never implemented it. Your article is the encouragement I need.

    I can’t remember the last time I unloaded the dishwasher. My older three (8, 6, and 4) always unload the dishwasher, and the older two can even load it.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      How cool is that! Big helpers.

      We do not have a dish washer, but my 5 year old took about 30 minutes rinsing dishes the other day for me and it was SOOOO nice.

  6. This is something I’ve actually been thinking about recently. Thank you for the suggestions.

    Our grocery store has a self-checkout lane, and my two year old loves to scan things. Since we aren’t holding up a line, it’s okay to take time for this fun activity.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      That does sound fun! I have never thought to do that. Next time we get to the check out aisle BEFORE meltdowns begin I will have to try.

  7. This was the kick-in-the-pants I needed to get my little crew in the kitchen with me. Too often I use kitchen cooking time as my de-stress, solo time. I don’t want to give that up, but I also want to let my kids help in the kitchen — especially in the years where they WANT to. 🙂

    We regularly do dishwasher duty and helping put groceries away. But I’ve gotten neglectful with other kitchen participation.

    My mom came over and had one of mine simply HOLD an item until it was ready. It was brilliant. I had completely forgotten about it until I read your post. Definitely bookmarking this to come back to again and again!

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      I am the same way. I love cooking by myself 😀 and I frequently do so during nap time and make dinner when my husband gets home often by myself or with 1 (not all three) kids. But, I definitely enjoy cooking WITH them too (0nce I start, the lead up is less fun).

      Val holds things for me sometimes, and love getting to hand them to me. So sweet!

  8. My kids don’t do nearly as much as yours, probably my fault. My three year old was actually a help the other day. He picked all the grapes and parsley off the stems for me. He loves to make “worms” with the garlic press 🙂 I have him put away the silverware also.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      Hee hee worms that is so cute! I am impressed he can press garlic, must have strong hands.

      I have not thought about having Natalia put away the silverware yet. She would love that. Always on the look out for little tasks she can do.

  9. Great article! My son is 9 now and has been helping in the kitchen all his life. After the recent birth of his baby sister, he actually prepared about 5 different complete meals for the family, which was a huge help.

    How does your 3-year-old cook ground beef without spattering grease, and how do you protect her from pathogens that might be in the raw meat? My family doesn’t eat beef now, but I remember learning to make hamburgers when I was around 10 and finding it daunting.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      What a blessing that your son was able to cook meals for you!

      My three year old has a little mix n chop, which is a tool that makes it very easy. I probably should have also said she is only cooking it if I am doing it crumbled vs. in patties. The beef I buy is always lean (grass fed naturally is) and so there really isn’t any spattering grease. She never touches the raw meat, I put it in the pan for her and turn on the stove. I let her tocuh chicken the other day to help massage it, and it was far too stressful because she is a little flighty. So, no raw meat for another year or two 😀

      I hope helps!

  10. If my kids ask for produce at the grocery store, I’ll get them one thing each trip. My oldest’s favorite were (and still are) bell peppers and rainbow swiss chard. Last week we got purple cauliflower, which turned into purple soup! I go to the produce section first, so when they ask for something else at the store I can say, “Nope, you picked endive today! I’m not going to trade.” (Sometimes its a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to use something like endive, but it’s good learning for everyone.)

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      What a great idea! I think my kids would always pick a fruit… maybe I should say vegetable. We got purple cauliflower and my daughter that it was SOOOOOOOOO pretty.

  11. I love this article! I have been (accidentally) limiting my little ones! I can’t wait to let them try out some new kitchen skills 🙂

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      One of the reasons I wanted to write this was just about every new task they do, it shocks me they can do it. It is so fun learning all they can do. It was really fun learning how good Valerie was at pulling off loose skin on onions and garlic. I have to loosen it for her, but totally worth it.

      1. I learned that my daughter could crack eggs when she was only two. We had come home from doing grocery shopping and I was feeding my new baby when I started hearing a sound that I couldn’t place. I suddenly realised it was eggs being cracked and leaped off the couch saying “What are you doing?! …Wow, you’re doing a really good job!”
        Since then she has been in charge of cracking the eggs and I’ve been more open to letting both children try new tasks in the kitchen.

  12. I used to serve spaghetti once a week just so my two-year-old could break the noodles into two or three pieces so they would fit into the pot. She was shocked years later to learn that I could actually make spaghetti with whole noodles. She always thought her job was vital. I told her that it was vital, since a two-year-old can’t handle eating whole noodles as well.

    1. Debra @ Worth Cooking

      Love this! My mom used to break noodles too, pretty sure I helped her a few times do that.

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