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Cooking with Young Children

Updated March 04, 2019
Professional headshot of Ann Schwader

Ann Schwader

SDSU Extension Program Assessment & Reporting Coordinator

Many families with young children are often faced with the challenge of needing to prepare quick, healthy, tasty meals on a pushed schedule. Add to the task that picky eating behavior is common for many children from the age of 2-5 years. They may eat only a certain type of food or refuse foods based on texture or color. Making time to include children in cooking activities can provide many benefits.

Research shows that children who cook are more willing to try new foods. Cooking with children is a way to promote their future health by teaching them how to prepare healthy meals. Let them be involved with the whole process including meal planning, shopping and cooking. Child-size equipment, close supervision and activities that match the child’s developmental age are key.

Age Appropriate Cooking Activities

Here are ways that young children can help in the kitchen:

2-year-olds can:

  • Wipe tables
  • Tear lettuce greens
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Carry ingredients from one place to another

3-year-olds can:

  • Mix or pour ingredients
  • Shake liquids in a covered container
  • Apply soft spreads
  • Place things in the trash

4-year-olds can:

  • Peel eggs and some fruits, such as oranges and bananas
  • Cut parsley and green onions with kid-safe scissors
  • Set the table
  • Help make sandwiches and tossed salads

5-year-olds can:

  • Measure ingredients
  • Use an egg beater

Show children how to properly wash their hands and let them know it isn’t safe to eat dough and batters with raw eggs. The following kid-friendly recipes are easy to serve anytime.

Touchdown Taco Salad

touchdown taco salad

Courtesy: Midwest Dairy Association


  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup salsa, divided
  • 8 cups salad greens
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 1-1/2 cup black beans


  1. Brown beef in a large non-stick skillet; remove from heat.
  2. Stir in 1 cup shredded cheese and 1/4 cup salsa; mix until blended.
  3. Spoon onto serving platter. In a large bowl, toss together salad greens, tomatoes, black beans and remaining cheese and salsa.
  4. Spoon salad over meat mixture and serve.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 140, Fat: 7g, Carbohydrates: 13g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Protein: 7g, Sodium: 330mg. Serves 8.

Porcupine Sliders

porcupine slider burgers

Courtesy: KidsHealth


  • 1/3 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey, extra lean
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup spinach leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pinch ground red pepper
  • Small wheat rolls


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook rice according to package directions and include 1/2 teaspoon of salt. When done, drain well and spread on a sheet pan to cool completely.
  3. Add canola oil to heated skillet. Add onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until soft (about 5 minutes). Transfer to sheet pan with rice and cool completely.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine turkey, egg, cranberries, spinach, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and red pepper. Mix well.
  5. Add rice and vegetable mixture to turkey mixture.
  6. Form into 6 patties. Place on sheet pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes until turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  7. Serve on whole-wheat rolls with optional lettuce, tomato and red onion.

Nutrition Facts: Per Slider - Calories: 260, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 2.5, Carbohydrates: 23g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 18g, Sodium: 390mg. Serves 6.

More Ideas

Help young children develop healthy eating habits by getting them involved in the kitchen. For additional information, check out University of Arkansas Research & Extension’s Cooking with Young Children handout. See Penn State Extension’s fact sheet, ABC’s of Growing Healthy Kids: Keep on Snacking.

Reference: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Getting Kids in The Kitchen.