Teaching kids to cook has benefits far beyond putting a meal together — although that in itself is worth the effort. It also provides opportunities for:
- Connection to real food
- Learning lifelong skills
- Developing healthy eating habits
- Fun and educational nutrition activities
- Practical application of math, science, reading, following instructions, and fine motor skills
- Overcoming picky eating
- Increasing self-esteem
- Tapping into creativity and play
But, just recognizing the benefits isn’t enough to overcome the uncertainty. It’s hard to know where to begin and what to emphasize to be successful in teaching kids to cook.
This article is full of helpful resources for getting your kids in the kitchen. Join me for a look at my top tips, safety suggestions, age-appropriate tasks, and easy recipes for kids to make.
Tips for teaching kids to cook
Having a few simple tips in your back pocket can make a world of difference when it comes to teaching your kids to cook. Here are five reminders that I’ve found most useful.
What age to start teaching kids to cook
It’s never too young to have your kids safely nearby when you are in the kitchen. By age two to three, most children are ready to participate through basic tasks and sensory play.
By age four to five, dull knife skills can be taught, and once your children are in elementary school, stove basics can begin — as always, with adult supervision.
Invite them in with a kid-friendly environment
Establishing a kid-friendly environment is part of helping kids to feel welcome, safe, and independent. Of course, different ages have different needs, and different kitchens have different restrictions. Still, there are a couple of key factors to consider:
- Make sure to have a spot at the counter, or a separate table, where kids can work safely for their size — providing a stool if necessary.
- Provide easy access to age-appropriate kitchen tools and materials that they need for kitchen play, eating, or food prep.
Set a positive example
Even if the kitchen may not always be your favorite place, keep it positive when cooking with your kids. The more we show our kids that it’s an environment for smiles, laughter, and happy moments, the more excited they will be to participate.
When cooking appears to be a stressful chore, everyone runs away!
Instead, set the example that:
- It’s okay to make a mess — we just need to clean it up.
- The kitchen can be a safe space to work when safety rules are followed.
- There’s plenty of room for creativity and expression.
- There’s no rush (parents, put on your patience hat!).
Start with small tasks
There’s a balance between teaching your kids the importance of finishing a task and keeping tasks manageable. Breaking up kitchen skills, or meal prep, into small parts helps to maintain their attention through to the end, and gives kids a sense of accomplishment.
Consider asking for small commitments, like:
- “Can you help me spread this butter on the bottom of the pie dish?”
- “I need help washing these ten apples. Would you mind?”
- “I’d love for you to measure a quarter cup of shredded coconut.”
These small tasks are focused and doable compared to “Let’s spend the next hour making Apple Crisp.”
As kids get older, they can see a meal through to the end — the apple crisp is possible. But, it’s always better to start small for the easy win, especially with little ones.
Celebrate their contributions
Kids love to feel appreciated. Celebrate any and all of their contributions in the kitchen — it keeps them coming back!
My current tweens still enjoy a good pat on the back, and love to feel valued for contributing to the family meal. And the best part is that they now pat my back! They are first to acknowledge my efforts when a healthy meal or snack gets put on the table.
Teaching kitchen safety
Time in the kitchen with your kids is one of the best things you can do for their health and yours, but safety needs to be a top priority.
Kids may moan and groan about rules, but boundaries actually provide them with security and comfort. Here are my top five kitchen safety tips:
- Always supervise your kids. Your tiniest chefs need direct assistance, but it’s important to be close to older kids as well in case they need help, or something goes wrong.
- Set expectations. Establish rules and expectations before you begin cooking. Cooking is a great opportunity to practice following instructions and allowing kids to gain more autonomy as they demonstrate readiness.
- Wear safe clothing. Teach your kids to avoid baggy clothing, remove any jewelry, and always tie long hair back.
- Properly wash hands. No washing, no cooking!
- Talk about safe food handling. How to properly wash produce, avoid raw meat contamination, and cook to safe temperatures are all important measures for kids to understand.
Be sure to check out Kitchen Safety for Kids for many more tips and details on safe cooking!
Cooking skills by age
Keep in mind that every child is different. As their caregiver, it’s up to you to evaluate their readiness for kitchen skills.
Here’s a list of tasks by age group to give you some guidance.
Toddlers 2 – 3
When cooking with toddlers, emphasize sensory play.
- Mimicking you through play
- Washing and drying produce
- Using a salad spinner
- Squeezing citrus by hand
- Pulling leaves off of herb stems
- Tearing lettuce leaves into smaller pieces
- Stirring dry ingredients
- Spreading soft foods
- Cutting soft foods with a toddler knife or butter knife (and supervision)
- Making a salad with pre-chopped ingredients
- Mashing soft bananas or cooked potatoes
- Learning to pour
- Putting muffin liners in tins
- Setting the table with napkins
- Sorting utensils
- Wiping up spills
Preschool 4 – 5
Motor skills are strengthened by preschool, and kids can accomplish more basic skills on their own.
- Measure with cups and spoons
- Peel straight vegetables
- Roll “dough” into balls with hands
- Use a muffin scoop
- Spreading soft butter
- Whisking oil and vinegar
- Learning to fold ingredients
- Learning to chop, slice, and dice with soft foods (bananas, watermelon)
- Help with electric appliances (pushing buttons on a blender, food processor, etc.)
- Peeling hard-boiled eggs
- Gathering ingredients
- Setting the table
- Clearing the table
- Unloading groceries and organizing like items
- Wiping the counter
- Sweeping the floor
Age 6 – 7
With plenty of guidance, you can focus on more detailed tasks by ages 6 to 7.
- Grating, peeling and zesting (with safety reminders)
- Safely stove and oven basics with supervision
- Cracking eggs
- Separating eggs
- Chopping, slicing, and dicing with kid-friendly knives (using bear claw) with supervision
- Seasoning food
- Cutting food on their plates
- Reading recipes and following step by step instructions
- Making simple quantity adjustments
Age 8 – 9
The ability to read opens up a whole new world in kitchen independence.
- Safely use small appliances with supervision
- Using a can opener
- Safely bake a dish and use the stovetop with supervision
- Safely use a sharp knife
- Steam vegetables
- Plan a balanced meal
- Pack their own lunch
- Putting away leftovers
- Washing and drying dishes
Age 10 – 12
This is where independence soars, and creativity blossoms!
If your pre-teen has been joining you in the kitchen since he, or she, was first toddling around, they’ve developed skills and confidence along the way. This is usually the age where they become fairly self-sufficient.
On the other hand, if your kids are new to this space, they can quickly catch up if they have the interest, encouragement, and the ability to follow directions well.
- Making soup
- Making a gravy or white sauce
- Cooking beans from scratch
- Meal planning
- Making a grocery list
It’s time to put all the basics together so that when your teens are ready to leave the house, they are self-sufficient in the kitchen.
- Adjusting recipes to make them their own
- Roasting vegetables and meats
- Sauteing, simmering, broiling
- Using a grill
- Meal planning
- Navigating the grocery store
Easy recipes for kids to make
Most recipes can be broken up into age-appropriate tasks so that kids can help at any stage. Here are a few favorites that also touch on key skills for developing kitchen competence.
Almond Butter Banana Muffins
These Almond Butter Banana Muffins are delicious and simple. It is a great recipe to practice mixing dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately before combining them into a batter. Learning how to fold in the chocolate chips is always a highlight.
Fancy Bugs on a Log
Fancy Bugs on a Log is an awesome recipe for toddlers and young kids to jump into. Practice spreading, selecting, and placing ingredients using fine motor skills, and bring creativity to life.
My boys have loved making smoothies from a young age and they think of this Coco-cado Smoothie as a healthy ice cream. Kids can gather ingredients, practice measuring, and learn to safely use small appliances through the process.
Egg Muffins are actually quite easy to pull together, but kids feel a huge sense of accomplishment with a recipe like this. Give them some autonomy in choosing which veggies to add. Allow older kids to practice dicing vegetables.
Cracking eggs is a favorite task at most ages.
Assembling a healthy salad is a wonderful skill. This Southwestern Taco Salad recipe provides opportunities for talking about “eating a rainbow,” proper produce washing, slicing and chopping, browning ground beef, and seasoning foods.
Bonus: Tools and resources for teaching kids to cook
Having a few tools and resources to reference when it comes to teaching kids to cook is more than helpful! As parents and caregivers, there’s no need to navigate these waters alone.
Kids Cook Real Food eCourse
Kids Cook Real Food is an online cooking course that teaches beginner to advanced kitchen skills for building healthy habits.
The course offers an organized skill progression with practice opportunities at three different levels. It comes complete with lesson plans and easy to follow videos.
Read more about our family’s journey with this invaluable eCourse.
Forest Feast for Kids
While kids don’t need cookbooks written specifically for them, sometimes they can inspire an interest in cooking.
Forest Feast for Kids (you can order it on Amazon here) has been one of those inspiring books for my boys. They pull it from the shelf time and time again — intrigued by the beautiful images with simple instructions that make sense to children.
We are also excited about the new release of Chef Junior — written for kids, by kids!
Cooking gift ideas
Giving children a gift that they can use in the kitchen can lead to years of learning, exploration, and joy-filled memories. Check out my list of 34 Fun, Creative Cooking Gifts for Kids for ideas and inspiration.
The benefits of teaching kids to cook extend far and wide. Now that you have helpful tips on how to get started, kitchen safety suggestions, cooking skills by age, easy recipes for kids to make, and extra resources to support you on this journey, you’re ready to jump in!
Start today with just one small step towards raising confident kids in the kitchen.