Cooking with Children
Dec. 18 2018

Cooking with Children

Cooking with Children

Cooking with young children offers a great opportunity for children to learn about healthy eating and to develop important life skills.  As a bonus, when children help make meals, you’ll find that they are more willing to try new foods.  This can have a great impact on a child’s nutrition and make them lifelong lovers of the healthy foods some of us struggle to enjoy.

We live in a world where it can be difficult to sit down to a family meal.  Between work, school, sports, and extracurricular activities, it can be hard to find the time. Families get to spend more quality time together as they prepare the meal. When children are engaged in helping in the kitchen, they are usually not in front of a computer or TV screen during that time.  In addition to the immediate impact on children’s health by encouraging them to taste new foods, meals made together as a family are more likely to be eaten together as a family.

When should a family start making meals – and memories – together?  

Toddlers and two-year-olds can participate in simple cooking activities such as spreading cream cheese on a cracker or toast, tearing lettuce for a salad and add shredded cheese to a homemade pizza. They can help to wash fruit and vegetables or wrap them in aluminum foil for baking. As children get older and their skills become more advanced, they can assist with measuring, pouring and mixing. Everyone can help with cleanup!

Be sure to involve children in the whole cooking process.  It is important that they learn that safe food preparation and cleaning up the mess are all a part of cooking.  Make sure to keep children safe by carefully supervising them in the kitchen.

Some Safety Tips to Follow

  1. Handwashing: everyone needs to wash their hands! Make sure all the children have thoroughly washed their hands before beginning the cooking activity as well as afterward.
  2. Safe utensils: children should have safe utensils that are wooden or plastic. Non-sharp knives may be used with older children under close supervision. Avoid graters or other sharp surface utensils that can cut or scrape children. Make sure all sharp objects are out of reach.
  3. Give clear directions: give special instructions ahead of time about oven safety and any special procedures where children should use extra caution.
  4. Supervise: never leave children unattended when cooking. Make sure an adult is present at all times.  Turn pot handles inward to prevent accidental spilling.
  5. Safe spaces: make sure the cooking area is safe by having children work at tables that are appropriate for their height. If a stool is needed, make sure it is sturdy and children can balance on it.
  6.  Clean up as you go.  Teach children to “manage the mess” as they go along.  Less clutter will be less overwhelming to everyone and make cooking seem like less of a chore.

How do we get started?

  • Plan with the children to help them feel part of the process.  Choose a recipe together and then make a list of ingredients.  Use this as a learning opportunity to talk about new food and the health benefits that it offers.  Bring the children grocery shopping and discuss the ingredients.   Look here for some great recipe ideas: Cooking with Kids
  • Once home, explain the importance of washing fruits and vegetables.  If possible, use different cutting boards for meat and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.
  • During recipe preparation, if school-age children are present, encourage them to read the recipe instructions.  Allow children to participate in the process such as adding ingredients, stirring or mixing.  Ask questions during the process such as “Why do we add spices?”, “How does this taste?”, and “What else might we add?”
  • Make sure children are not hungry during food preparation time.  Provide a healthy snack ahead of time so that they can enjoy the process and are ready to learn rather than thinking about how hungry they are at the moment.
  • Involve the children in setup and clean up so that they learn this is all a part of the meal preparation process.  They learn important skills and build their confidence as they help.
  •  Let children set the table.  If you are concerned that they might break the dishware or glasses, use disposable.

Enjoy the meal together

While you enjoy the meal together, talk about all the steps you took together from beginning to end.  What was their favorite part? What else could you make together? Do they taste the different seasonings they added?

If your family hasn’t had the chance to cook together, the holiday season is a great time to introduce children to the kitchen.  Many families enjoy the yearly tradition of making cookies and treats. Children love being part of meal preparation, especially if they are given the opportunity to plan the menu, shop for food, and prepare the meal.  They love to brag about how much help they are!

Preparing a simple meal with your children will make everyone happy.  It gives parents and children very important together time that many families are lacking, the children learn life skills, teamwork, proper hygiene, and food safety.


By Jennifer Benn, Director of Daycare Registration and CACFP