Written with contributions by Kimberly Cripps, former SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Field Specialist.
Young children love to be in the kitchen with their parents and other adults. Not only do they enjoy spending time with you, but they also love being able to make themselves something to eat. Although it may not seem like it, children are developing important skills while they help you in the kitchen.
Safety can be a concern when food is being prepared, but there are benefits to letting toddlers and older children help. So rather than shoo them out, let them do some simple, easy tasks that will help them feel ‘grown-up’ and important, while at the same time gaining valuable culinary skills and knowledge about healthy foods. Remember that if they help prepare the food, they are more likely to try it too, along with a variety of new foods.
There is no reason why a child should not be able to perform some simple tasks during meal preparation if the task matches their age and ability. While they help prepare the food, you can talk to them about the food groups and what makes the food healthy.
Here are some things to remember when having young children help in the kitchen:
- Involve them in the meal planning. Let them choose some of the foods you will serve.
- Always make sure the child can safely do tasks at their age.
- Help them learn how to keep food safe.
- Teach them to always wash their hands before and during meal preparation and before eating.
- Talk to them about the food groups and what makes the food they make healthy.
- Always choose cooking tools that match the child’s age and ability and teach them how to use it correctly.
- Let them help clean up.
- Always praise them for their efforts.
- Be patient and understand that messes will happen.
Activities by Age
Look at all the things a 2-year-old can do:
- Scrub the table and work surfaces.
- Wash fruits and vegetables in a small pan of water.
- Let them wash and dry lightweight, unbreakable dishes and pans.
- Tear lettuce and other greens for salads.
- Break apart broccoli, cauliflower, and grapes.
- Shaking food, such as pudding, in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Help put some groceries away.
- Put things in the trash.
Ages 3 and 4
Here are some things children age 3 and 4 can do:
- Peel eggs, bananas, or oranges.
- Learn to use measuring spoons and cups.
- Cut semi-soft foods like cheese and bananas with a plastic knife.
- Set and clear the table.
- Pour some liquids.
- Stir batter with a spoon.
- Help make sandwiches.
- Mash soft foods with a fork.
- Measure dry ingredients.
Ages 5 and Up
Children 5 and up can:
- Measure foods.
- Load the dishwasher.
- Grease or spray baking pans.
- Knead dough.
- Help assemble a pizza.
- Read a recipe.
So, enjoy spending quality time with your child by bringing them into the kitchen with you!