Every kitchen task your child can help with, based on their age
Because cooking is more fun with little hands helping.
In my home, some of the best memories have happened in the kitchen. I remember learning how to cook next to my mother and grandmother, vowing that I would one day pass along those lessons to my future children. Now that I’m a mother, I’ve learned that cooking with your child allows them to explore different tastes and textures from a young age—and may even lead to less pickiness as they get older since they feel involved in their eating process and more likely to experiment with new flavors.
Cooking with your kids also provides them with a sense of independence and accomplishment and teaches them family traditions, important food skills, and other habits that they can carry into adulthood. But beyond the lessons, spending time in the kitchen together is fun! (Clean-up, maybe not so much.) Pick a time when you're not in a rush, like weekend meals and Sunday brunch instead of a midweek dinner, so that you have the time to explain and work together. Rushing though a task or getting frustrated that it’s taking too long will be counterproductive so try and make it enjoyable for everyone by setting aside an extra half hour to prepare your meals together.
Looking for ways to introduce your little one to the kitchen? Follow below for age-appropriate tasks that will turn your toddler into a top chef in no time. And remember: each child develops at a different rate. Use your judgement and the skill set of your babe to determine what tasks they are capable of safely accomplishing.
Babies and Toddlers (Ages 0-2)
Babies and toddlers love to observe and take in the sights around them. This is a great opportunity for them to touch, taste, and explore new ingredients and make some noise with cooking utensils. Set your little one down in a safe space in the kitchen—such as a high chair, playpen, or a learning tower if they can stand—and allow them to touch items like the skin of an orange, a wooden spoon, or plastic measuring cups. Make sure to verbalize what you’re doing out loud so that they connect the process with the words which will help them as they start developing language skills.
Babies and toddlers can:
- Play with whole fruit and vegetables, wooden spoons, and mixing bowls
- Explore a sensory table with water and measuring cups for them to scoop, dip, and explore
- Smell and taste age-appropriate ingredients
- Tear herbs or lettuce greens: This is a great time to smell new ingredients, too.
- Sprinkle spices and salt
Preschool (Ages 2-5)
Preschool aged kids will love working on fine motor skills as well as gaining even more independence. They may start showing signs of pickiness when eating, which is why engaging them in the cooking process is so helpful as they feel a stronger connection if they help prepare their meals. This is also the age range where they can do larger cooking tasks such as rolling out dough and mixing more ingredients.
Kids this age will be able to help with the following tasks:
- Rolling out pizza or cookie dough and cutting with a child-safe knife or cookie cutter
- Arranging cookie dough on baking sheet
- Whisking batter
- Customizing their own smoothies by choosing from a list of ingredients: This allows them to feel in control of what they're putting in their bodies while still getting nutrition. Pick five to six healthy options and let them decide what goes in.
- Helping find ingredients in the refrigerator or cupboard: This also helps them continue building their language skills.
- Mixing wet ingredients into dry ingredients and gently stir with a wooden spoon
- Adding sprinkles to cake
- Placing cupcake liners in cupcake pans
- Sorting spoons and forks to put in dishwasher
- Setting a timer
- Peeling hard-boiled eggs and slicing with child-safe knife
Lower Elementary (Ages 5-7)
At this age your child has spent a good amount of time in the kitchen and has picked up on some basic prep skills. They are now also learning how to read and are able to complete simple recipes such as making their own chia pudding or mixing their own cupcake batter. This is a good time to start including them in cooking tasks that require the stove top and teaching them how to safely use gadgets like a stand mixer, a box grater, and a blender.
The following tasks are suited for children this age:
- Reading recipes out loud and complete tasks independently
- Grating cheese on a box grater
- Writing down their recipe for the perfect fruit salad: Then chop ingredients using a kid-friendly knife to recreate the recipe.
- Making their own sandwich
Upper Elementary (Ages 7-11)
At this age your child is much more coordinated and can even begin cooking foods on their own under your supervision. Allowing them to help plan out the weekly household menu will keep them feeling involved and let them get creative with their newfound skills. This is the age when you can decide if they are ready to move on to small adult kitchen knives, but as always, use your judgment.
Older kids can:
- Make simple dishes on the stove: Grilled cheese, pancakes, and scrambled eggs are good dishes to start with.
- Make their own school lunches and assemble their own snacks
- Pre-make yogurt parfaits in individual containers for the week
- Use a kid-friendly knife to cut things such as cheese, tofu, berries, and bread
- Skewer meat and vegetables on wooden skewers and marinate for later. This task is perfect for the family that loves to grill.
Why you should ask your kids to help you in the kitchen
There’s no limit to the possibilities your little one can accomplish in the kitchen if given the opportunity to learn. I truly believe it leads to a lifetime of confident eating habits and a positive outlook on food. Instead of mealtime being a struggle, we can work to make it a fun activity for the entire family, moving the focus away from needing to eat and towards wanting to eat because they feel engaged in the process. There are endless opportunities to learn and grow with your child and the kitchen is one of the best (and tastiest) of them all.