Cooking with kids

Kids learn more than cooking in the kitchen.

Kids are generally enthusiastic about food as they like to eat; they like to grocery shop; they like to read books about food and they like to play cooking. Young kids are also enthusiastic about helping which is why cooking with kids is such a great activity. Before making a mental list of reasons not to cook with your children or grandchildren, think about your favorite memories as a child. Do some include cooking or baking with your mom, grandma, aunt or older sibling?

Cooking with kids has many benefits, as a life skill, making a great memory and many more. Michigan State University Extension says that math, science, reading, communication, decision making skills, all these take place while preparing food. Hands on learning; using all five senses is the best way to get kids involved.

Kids in the kitchen are not an activity to rush. Thursday night at 6:30 is not the best time for a cooking experience. Planning in advance is the first step. Arm yourself with time, kid friendly recipes, patience and a sense of adventure. Keep in mind that it’s the whole process of cooking, not just the end product. Families looking for special diet recipes for kids with allergies, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Celiac disease and lactose intolerance, will find many kid friendly recipes at

Involve all ages of kids; if a child can sit in a high chair they can be included in a family food experience. Add a plastic bowl and spoon, include the child in the conversations and that child will feel part of the activity. What duties can older kids do?

  • Two-year-olds are learning to use the large muscles in their arms; activities such as scrubbing fruits and vegetables, tearing lettuce or carrying plastic drinking cups to the table are activities appropriate for this age group. Keep in mind child development stages - the cups may be placed on the seat of a chair instead of the table top and scrubbing fruits and vegetables may turn in to scrubbing little arms and legs. Don’t forget the planning ahead part of cooking with kids!
  • Three-year-olds have more control of their arms and are working on perfecting the use of their hands. They still like to scrub fruits and vegetables but can now pour liquids, stir batter, knead bread dough and help set and clear the table.
  • Four and 5-year-olds perform tasks two and 3-year-olds are doing; and their coordination has improved, giving them more control over the muscles in their fingers. This age group likes to cut with a plastic knife, press cookie cutters, measure flour and sugar and mash soft foods.

Watch the kids perform these tasks and notice how important they feel being a part of the process. You’ll soon forget the prep work and messes that may have occurred, messes and kids can always be cleaned up.

Don’t forget food safety. Everyone should wash their hands before cooking. Use unbreakable cooking supplies and plastic knives for cutting and make sure there is no sampling uncooked food. Have children stand at the level of the activity – use a stool if necessary. Remind children that stoves, ovens, pans and dishes can be very hot.

Cooking provides an opportunity for kids to practice math and reading skills, increase their knowledge of nutrition, food safety and even experience cultures from around the world. What do you remember about cooking with someone in your family? My mom taught me how to make her spicy coffee bars and Aunt Fran’s spaghetti sauce. My grandma showed me the correct way to slice a beef roast. Aunt Eunice gave me my first cookbook. Kids may not remember each dish cooked or baked, but they will always remember who was standing beside them in the kitchen.

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