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Involving Children in the Kitchen

Written by Melissa Dellinger, RD, LDN

The kitchen with so many strange noises, interesting smells and fascinating gadgets is a very intriguing place for children.  Spending time in the kitchen with children provides them with life-long skills. It is also the perfect opportunity to connect with your children and to help them to practice math skills, learn about food, follow directions, and have fun. Plus, children are more likely to try new foods when they have part in preparing them.

You can invite children to help prepare family meals or snacks by giving them a specific task. Be sure to think about the child’s age and developmental stage when involving them in food preparation. It is unrealistic to expect a 2 year old to stir pancake batter without making a mess as they do not have the find motor skills to do so at that age. But, a 2 year old is learning to coordinate arm movements and would be the perfect helper to set the table by carrying unbreakable plates, cups or bowls to the table. Consider the tasks below for ideas on how to involve children of all ages safely in the kitchen: 

  • 2-4 year olds: Wash fruits and vegetables; help set the table; tear lettuce for a salad; sort ingredients; pour pre-measured ingredients into a bowl with assistance; sprinkle toppings on a salad or pizza
  • 5-7 year olds: Pour, mix, whisk and stir ingredients together; use a cheese or vegetables grater; cut vegetables; crack eggs; drain and rinse beans; shape cookies or patties; put food on skewers to make kabobs; scoop out the inside of an avocado to make guacamole 
  • 8-9 year olds: use a can opener; scoop or pour batter into muffin pans; practice math skills to measure ingredients; learn how to use stove stop controllers; read and follow a recipe; work a stove stop or oven with assistance
  • 10-12 year olds: use electric appliances like a food processor, blender or a mixer; use a pizza cutter; put leftovers in storage containers and label with date and food; wash dishes
  • Teenagers: independently work appliances and follow recipes. Teenagers also may want to create their own recipes, explore other cuisines, or try new cooking techniques as they build confidence in their cooking skills. 

Always accompany your child in the kitchen to maintain safe food handling and kitchen practices. Everyone in the family can have a role in preparing family meals. Plan to cook together on a day where you have plenty of available time to dedicate to teaching and having fun! Consider these ideas to help make it enjoyable for everyone involved: 

  • Wear chef hats and aprons
  • Plan a themed dinner party menu with table decorations
  • Use your hands to mix ingredients or knead doughs
  • Sit down to eat together to enjoy what you prepared
  • Teach your favorite recipes to each other
  • Cook together on a weekend when everyone can have a part in the recipe

Bon appetite!

This article was written by staff who are apart of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children’s Hospital that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes. Visit BrennerChildrens.org/BrennerFit for our current class listing.