- By Jessica DeGore
- August 7, 2019
Involving Kids in the Kitchen
By: Caroline Passerrello
“Momma, Can I Help You Make That?”
Luciana is brushing the whole-wheat soft pretzels with oil and then sprinkling salt on them. Some pretzels were much saltier than others
If you are like me, there are times you hear that question and become overwhelmed with pride and excitement, then there are times you have the opposite reaction to that question. My daughter, now 5, asks this question a lot and I imagine it is because I have involved her in the cooking process as much as possible throughout her life. I know when I am not as excited to hear this questions it is because I am already stressed or rushed. To be able to answer, “YES!” and share her enthusiasm, I keep this list handy so that I can quickly think of a way she can help based on what we are cooking and the time we have available.
Age ranges are suggestions – you know your child the best and can judge if a certain task can be done earlier or should be attempted later. This list has been adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, click here for an infographic.
Children may not be interested in listening to specific directions at this age, so be sure to suggest safe activities and prepare for them to get creative!
- Arranging pieces of fruit to craft funny fruit faces
- Breading and flouring – you can set up three stations with flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs for fish fingers
- Brushing oil onto bread, vegetables and other foods
- Clearing countertops
- Cutting soft fruit or vegetables on a cutting board
- Kneading – light kneading can be fun but you’ll need to step in to complete the task
- Mashing bananas for banana bread
- Mixing – using either a spoon or hands to mix together ingredients
- Rinsing produce in a large bowl filled with water
- Rolling, shaping and cutting dough – choose plastic cutters and a small rolling pin
- Smashing crackers for crust or bread crumbs
- Spreading – buttering bread and spreading icing
- Tearing and squashing – tearing herbs and lettuce or squashing fruit
- Using a pestle and mortar – a light wooden one is better than a heavy one
- Washing fruit and vegetables
- Weighing – pouring or spooning ingredients into scales. Using measuring spoons
- Wrapping potatoes in foil to bake
In addition to the tasks for 3-5 year olds, you can begin to encourage more independence.
- Beating and folding – show children how to beat cake mixture with a wooden spoon or fold in egg whites without knocking out too much air
- Counting items
- Cracking eggs into a bowl
- Cutting green onions, parsley and other herbs with kitchen scissors
- De-seeding peppers and tomatoes
- Gathering ingredients and bowls
- Greasing and lining a cake tin or tray
- Measuring ingredients and learning math skills
- Peeling oranges or hard-boiled eggs or even vegetables with a peeler
- Preparing lettuce for a salad
- Rolling dough – with a rolling pin or into balls (cookies)
- Setting the table
- Shucking and rinse corn
- Stirring and preparing instant pudding
In addition to everything listed, kids at this stage can take on more of the planning and continue to increase their independence.
- Assembling sandwiches
- Following a simple recipe
- Finding ingredients in the cupboards and fridge
- Juicing citrus fruits
- Making salads
- Measuring and mixing ingredients more independently
- Opening a can with a can opener
- Pounding chicken on a cutting board
- Rinsing and cleaning vegetables
- Temping a food with a food thermometer
- Toasting bread
- Unloading groceries
- Whisking, using a balloon whisk or handheld mixer
Kids can begin to prepare more complex recipes, start improvising and take on more responsibility involving heat.
- Baking and microwaving foods
- Boiling pasta and vegetables
- Following a simple step-by-step recipe
- Simmering ingredients on the stovetop
- Slicing and chopping vegetables
Even older children still need some supervision to avoid accidents in the kitchen.
- Applying math concepts – counting, dividing portions, doubling recipes, adding and subtracting
- Following instructions – young children are particularly inclined to want to add more, jump stages or taste when they shouldn’t
- Identifying kitchen equipment and learning how to use it
- Learning patience and concepts of cooking time
- Loading and unload the dishwasher
- Planning the family meal
- Reading and following recipes in order to create the final dish
- Recognizing ingredients and learning more about them
Involving kids in the cooking process has been shown to increase their likelihood of trying new foods. It is also a great way to spend quality time together and work on reading, math and science skills. What are your go-to tasks for kids in the kitchen?
Caroline Passerrello is a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and mom to a very helpful 5-year old.