Below is a guide on cooking with kids and some age appropriate tasks and foods that you can enjoy with your little ones.
Cooking With Kids Guide
Cooking is one of the most important, lifelong skills we can learn.
Teaching your kids this skill from an early age is the key to getting them interested about food and become more adventurous eaters.
Here are my tips for having fun in the kitchen at every stage;
Start as soon as possible;
Kids have an incredible ability to learn and soak up knowledge from such an early age. They are little sponges! Which means we can start gently introducing them to cooking right from the start.
Getting fussy eaters involved in the cooking process also means they are more likely to be more adventurous and try new foods.
Age and Ability;
There are a lot of great recipes available for every age group and level of development. Younger kids can have very short attention spans, so they may not stay interested in the whole process. Even helping with a few steps will help them learn and gain a sense of satisfaction with their creations.
They will learn skills little by little and feel a huge sense of accomplishment once they have mastered something new.
You know your kids best. Be sure to choose a recipe with an appropriate time length and activities that will suit your child.
If you’re going to have kids helping in the kitchen, you don’t want to be rushed.
Choose a time when it’s not hectic or hurried where you don’t have time to explain the steps or let them help. If you have younger kids, choose a time when they’re not tired or frustrated.
Choose an appropriate recipe, one that your child/children will enjoy and one that has suitable steps and activities. Make sure you have all of the ingredients and equipment required before getting started.
Where possible, plan what you’d like to make together and write a shopping list.
When cooking with small children, I will generally do some preparation first before getting them set up to help, for example, setting up and washing ingredients, preparing cake tins, etc.
Teach Good Hygiene;
Good food hygiene is important to learn. Teach your little ones to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, as well as keeping dishes and bench spaces clean. Make sure they wash their hands if touching raw ingredients or tasting food with their little fingers.
All children will need supervision when working in the kitchen. Teach them not to touch hot items, electric appliances like beaters, hot pans and stove tops.
Show them what is OK to touch and which items could harm them. Kitchen rules could cover washing hands and not touching dangerous items like sharp knives and stove knobs or power points.
Be OK With Getting Messy;
Cooking with kids is always going to take a little longer and can get (very!) messy. Set up a space at the bench for them and dress them in clothes that you don’t mind getting food on. To protect their clothing, you can consider using an apron or mini chef pack, like the ones you can get here. Let all of the fun and mess happen and worry about the clean up when you are finished.
Cooking and Learning;
Cooking with your kids is a great opportunity for them to learn not only about food, but also about counting, language and measuring. It can develop their fine motor skills and grow their confidence and independence, as well as giving them a real sense of achievement! As they get older and more confident, you can read through the recipe together, count and measure ingredients and step back a little more to give them more independence.
Let them be hands on;
Young kids are very hands on and love to learn by touching and tasting. Don’t step in unless you have to.
Encourage adventurous taste buds by allowing them to taste test different ingredients and flavours. With your help, they will learn about different ingredients and whether they are safe to eat raw or need to be cooked first.
Talk through the recipe together before you start. Depending on your child’s age and level of understanding, either explain what you are making and the steps involved, or have your child read through the recipe themselves and help prepare the required ingredients.
Cooking with toddlers (2-4);
Toddlers like to explore with their senses and love to touch and taste. They have very short attention spans, so it’s best to choose a recipe that doesn’t involve many steps or take a long time to complete. Consider starting with a simple recipe with five or fewer ingredients.
Try letting them;
- Help you find ingredients and carry them from the fridge or pantry
- Tip pre-measured ingredients, like flour, into the mixing bowl
- Add patty cases to baking trays
- Sprinkle cheese or other toppings
- Roll biscuits or dough in their hands
- Count ingredients, like eggs
- Stir ingredients
- Cut soft ingredients, like eggs and bananas and other fruits, using a child safe “first” knife like this one from Foost. They may need your assistance or a guiding hand at this stage.
- Wash vegetables and fruit
- Mashing with a fork or masher (be mindful of temperature)
Some great recipe ideas to cook with toddlers are;
- Smoothies. Let them have a turn at cutting soft fruits (with a child safe knife) and add ingredients into the blender. Smoothies are a great way to get your kids to eat fruits and veggies and try different flavours.
- Banana bread
- Chocolate snow biscuits
- Healthy bliss balls -these are a favourite to make in my house. They take five minutes and all of the ingredients go into a food processor. My boys have a lot of fun rolling them up.
- Build your own salad wraps. A great way to get toddlers to try veggies.
- Pizzas. Mixing dough, spreading sauce, sprinkling cheese.
Cooking with pre-schoolers (5-6);
Pre-schoolers are a little more able to follow directions (even if just for a short time!) at this stage. Skills can of course very at this age, so choose recipes and activities that suit your child.
At this stage, your kids may be ready to;
- Build and layer foods like sandwiches
- Add butter to bread and toast
- Practice making their own cereal
- Stir and mix ingredients (cake mixes, sauces, etc)
- Cut soft ingredients, like eggs, strawberries, cheese or cooked vegetables using a child safe knife like this one from Foost.
- Crack and beat eggs
- Crumb meats
- Grating; make sure you watch little fingers
- Setting the table and helping to clear dishes after a meal
- Use a cookie cutter to make different shapes
Some great foods to make with 4-6 year olds;
- Fruit salad
- Healthy banana muffins
- Veggie muffins
- Cheese and Vegemite scrolls
- Crumbed fish and chips
Cooking with Primary School Aged Kids (6-12);
As your kids start to get a little older and their cooking skills develop, they can start to be more involved in the cooking process and undertake some roles with less guidance. There are a lot of hazards in the kitchen, so be sure to still supervise around hot temperatures and sharp objects. Step back and allow them to complete tasks on their own where possible.
At this stage, your kids may be able to;
- Plan out an entire meal for the family. They may like to prepare a menu, work out which ingredients are required and help with the shopping.
- Read through and follow suitable recipes
- Work independently with simple recipes
- Peel veggies and fruits (with supervision)
- Whisk and stir ingredients
- Use a microwave
- Cut foods using a safe, age appropriate knife, like this one from Foost.
- Set up and clean up dishes and work spaces
Some great foods to make with your primary school child;
- Meat or fish pies
- Cakes, cupcakes, muffins
- Corn and feta fritters
- Chocolate snow biscuits
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Cheese and spinach puffs
- Meatloaf and veggies
- Pasta bake
- Sausage rolls
Cooking with Teenagers;
Along with all of the skills developed during the earlier stages, teenagers can gain independence in the kitchen and begin to make more complex recipes. This is the perfect time to be teaching some basic go-to recipes and skills to set them up for adulthood. They could even start a collection of their favourite recipes for easy, healthy meals on a budget. A good education around food and cooking equips them to make healthier food choices later in life.
Some recipe ideas for your teenager to try independently;
- Tacos/burritos and salad
- Fried rice
- Chicken and veggie stir fry
- Super smoothies
Hopefully this guide helps you to get into the kitchen and cooking with your kids. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Set aside some time, choose a recipe together and have fun!
**This page may contain affiliate links. Purchases made using these links may provide a small amount of commission to me (at no extra cost to you).
Thanks for reading! Subscribe to The Cooking Collective to have more beautiful recipes delivered straight to your inbox.