Worried your child is too young to help out in the kitchen? Think again! No matter how young, it’s never too early to introduce your little one to the signs, smells and tastes of home cooking!
Why Cook with Kids?
Introducing your kids to cooking at a young age helps to stimulate all their senses and build valuable life skills. Cooking with kids can:
- Encourage them to be more adventurous eaters by exposing them to new foods and allowing them to be part of the process of selecting and preparing meals.
- Build self-confidence by showing them they can help feed their family.
- Teach math (measuring and weighing), reading (reading a recipe and food labels), and science (cooking = chemical reactions!)
- Deepen your family bonds by teaching kids about your family’s traditions and history.
- Expose your kids to other cultures through their foods.
The Ages and Stages of Cooking
Stage 1: Newborns – 2 Year Olds
While the littlest ones in your home aren’t going to be super involved with the actual cooking process, they can still be fully engaged and immersed in the kitchen! Some ways to get your 0 – 2 year old involved in cooking include:
- Talk about the ingredients. Say the name of each ingredient, describe what it looks like, smells like, and tastes like. Explain what the food looks like as it is cooking. Be careful to keep baby far away from the hot stove, oven and sharp objects.
- When possible, let your baby touch and feel the ingredients. Avoid letting them touch foods like raw meat or eggs, or any food your little one is known to be allergic to.
- Once your baby starts eating solids, you can let them taste or lick some of the ingredients. Spices, herbs, fruits, all of these open your baby’s palate and expose them to new and exciting flavors.
Stage 2: 2 – 3 Year Olds
Toddlers make the perfect pint-sized sous chefs in your kitchen. They are naturally curious and love to help parents and other family members in the kitchen. Ways your toddler can safely help in the kitchen include:
- Wash raw fruits & veggies in the sink
- Pick fresh herbs, like parsley or cilantro, off of the stem
- Squeeze cut lemons or limes (parent cuts, child squeezes)
- Knead dough
- Using a rolling pin to roll out dough, cookies, or pie crust
- Whisk & stir (just no hot ingredients)
- Mash with a fork or potato masher (just no hot ingredients)
- Sprinkle garnishes on plates, like herbs and cheese
Stage 3: 3 – 5 Year Olds
Is your little one ready for a promotion in the kitchen? Preschoolers may be ready to take on more tasks with you, but remember they still need to be closely supervised at all times. Your preschooler can help you by:
- Cut soft ingredients with a knife (consider buying a child-safe knife, which is sharp enough to cut food but not skin)
- Peel fruits & veggies
- Grate cheese or veggies
- Crack eggs
- Form even size patties
- Set the table
What is your child’s favorite way to help out in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments!
About the author:
Stephanie Van’t Zelfden, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She is the founder of Nutrition Hungry, which helps parents and families find health and balance through home cooking. Learn more at www.nutritionhungry.com.