As parents we teach our kids many life skills, like how to share and treat others with respect, how to pick out appropriate clothes (and to actually get dressed), or how to keep our living areas and bodies clean. But when it comes to hands-on help in the kitchen, sometimes we can be a little hesitant.
Thanks to busy schedules, ridiculous mental loads and a plethora of takeout and delivery options out there these days, we’re not even spending that much time in the kitchen. And when we do, it’s easy to just whip things up ourselves and avoid another big mess to clean up following kid
Still, cooking is another one of those life skills that’s handy for kids of any age to have. Do I like allowing my toddler to crack eggs and then fish out the shells from the mixture before whisking it together? That’s a hard no. And sometimes more eggs wind up on the counter than in the bowl. But she loves it, and more importantly she’s learning on a variety of levels—sensory, fine motor and of course, healthy eating.
It’s not always easy, but here are some easy ways to get you kids under 10 involved the next time you step foot in the kitchen.
Under 2 years old
Let them watch you
This one is pretty straightforward. Sit them in the bouncy seat on the kitchen floor, prop them up on a child-safe chair or, if you’re close by, allow them to sit with you on the counter (if you’re comfortable with it). The more those little monkeys see, the more they’re going to want to do.
Give them tools to play with
While you’re cooking up a storm, give them wooden spoons, plastic mixing cups and other baby-friendly utensils to play with nearby. Even better, create an entire drawer with stuff that’s totally safe for them to play with, like Tupperware containers or small plastic colanders.
Let them taste and smell as you go
I love watching my baby’s expression when I move fresh herbs under his nose. And by having my toddler nearby while I’m cooking she’s sampled so many things she’d probably never show an interest in otherwise, like beets, tofu, olives and mushrooms.
Have you noticed how much toddlers love ripping things? Get them to take that skill and put it to good use by ripping up your freshly washed lettuce the next time you’re cobbling together a salad.
2-3 years old
Wash fruits and vegetables
It’s never too early to practice good hygiene in the kitchen, especially when it comes to your produce. Get your kids to scrub potatoes with a scrub brush, or rinse off apples, oranges and berries before your next midday snack.
This is a messy one, but for whatever reason tots love the satisfaction that comes with cracking open an egg and allowing its contents to spill into a bowl. Just be on standby to collect any wayward shells.
What kid doesn’t love to stir? Whether you’ve seasoned a bowl of veggies or are baking up something delicious, stirring ingredients together is an easy, kid-approved activity.
Add spices and mixes
Give your child a measuring spoon and let him dip into those dried herbs and spices. Along the way let him smell and taste too so that he can work on developing his own palate.
Mix, mash, and brush
Some kids have a thing about getting their hands dirty, but if your kid isn’t one of them, have them take their (clean) hands and mix up ingredients in a bowl. Or, allow them to mash potatoes or steamed cauliflower, or even brush meat and veggies with a little bit of oil.
Grease baking pans
The next time you’re baking something that requires a greased pan, allow your kid to do the greasing for you. They can use a brush, a paper towel or even their bare hands to spread that oil or butter around.
4-5 years old
Cut soft foods with an appropriate knife
Give your kids a plastic or butter knife and then let them go to town “chopping” up hard-boiled eggs, steamed veggies, soft bread or anything else with easy give.
Measure dry ingredients
Need a cup of flour or sugar? Let your child do the measuring for you. Start off with dry ingredients until she gets the hang of things, and then you can graduate to liquid ingredients too.
Peel hard-boiled eggs
Making something that requires the addition of a hard-boiled egg? Get your child on board. There’s something satisfying about taking off that entire shell to reveal the perfect, slimy layer below.
Juice citrus fruit
Adding fresh citrus fruit to a dish isn’t just a great way to add flavour, it’s also incredibly healthy. Teach your kids as much by allowing them to squeeze all the goodness out of that lemon or lime on their own.
Roll out dough
Remember how much fun you had rolling out Play-Doh back in the day? Let your kids experience all of that fun on a real-world level by handing over the rolling pin the next time you’re making cookies or a pastry.
Use a garlic press
What’s more fun than smashing a clove of garlic in a press and seeing all of those little pieces push out the other end? If your kid is strong enough to squeeze, then odds are he or she can become your official garlic presser too.
6-9 years old
Read recipes together
This is the time that a lot of kids begin learning to read actual words, so what better way to practice those newfound skills than by reading a recipe together? Have your kid read you the directions the next time you’re cooking something new and see how much more invested in the food they suddenly become.
Cook at the stove
You know your kid best, but this is around the age that they’re finally ready to do some stovetop cooking. Start small by allowing them to stir soups and stews, and then graduate to grilled cheese, eggs and pancakes.
It’s a chore most of us hate, but it just so happens to be the perfect activity for any cheese-loving kid out there. Just make sure to give them a little bit extra to grate, knowing they’re probably going to sample along the way.
Peel fruits and vegetables
Again, this isn’t exactly something fun for adults to do, but kids have the perfect little hands for grating those carrots and potatoes. Get them started early because it will be slow-going at first, but eventually they may even get better at it than you are.
Put food on skewers
One of the easiest ways to get your kids to try something new is to serve it to them in a new, fun vessel. And what’s more fun than a skewer of yummy things? Have your child “thread” pre-cut ingredients onto a soaked skewer the next time you have a hankering for barbecue, igniting their creativity while you’re at it.