Helping kids learn to cook: a lot of fun and a lot of mess. It can be difficult to get started, especially when you think about that mess (and especially when they’re really little). But it’s also completely worth it! Kids who take part in cooking for the family are more open to trying new foods, including vegetables, and more often take an active interest in what they eat. Cooking can also help kids feel happier and more in control. Cooking with the family also provides a chance for kids to learn about nutrition and where food comes from.
But how—and at what age—can you start? Most experts agree that two to three years is a good time, but you’ll know best when they’re ready. As far as how, here are a few ways to help you get you started!
Let them Choose What to Cook
Within reason, if they’re old enough, help your kids go through cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube to find a recipe that interest them. In the same way, they can help you choose the ingredients for snacks, sides, and even main dishes.
Kids are a lot more interested in eating when they know what’s going into their food and can take an active part in choosing what they eat. Plus, any time spent cooking is helping kids learn to cook.
Give Them a Way to Help
Helping is a great way to teach your kids to cook. I don’t know about your little ones, but my little one loves to help, even if it’s more “help” than actual help. And lately, she wants to watch me cook and even helps once in a while. While older kids can do a lot more in the kitchen when you feel like your kids are ready to help out, they can do things like:
- Measuring and pouring
- Ripping and tearing
- Cracking eggs
When it comes to chopping, littles ones can use a dull plastic knife for things like apples that have already peeled and cut into smaller pieces, cucumbers, and other soft foods. You can even give a toddler a spoon to use to cut something really soft, like strawberries. And even if they can’t measure, they can at least dump into a bowl. Just be prepared: the smaller they are, the bigger the mess.
Younger kids definitely lose patience and interest pretty quickly, but the idea isn’t to get them to help the entire time, but just start getting them involved.
Find Recipes that are Good for Kids
Long before I got pregnant, I read the book Lunch in Paris. In it, the author talks about the French yogurt cake, the first recipe every French child learns to make for themselves. There was something about the idea of a recipe that was perfectly easy for kids that kept it in my mind until my little one was ready to cook. The idea is that you use one measuring device (a yogurt tub) and basically scoop and dump all of the ingredients—the perfect activity for little hands.
There are many recipes floating around the Internet that are perfect for little ones, whether they’re helping you out or making it themselves:
- Simple soups
- Ants on a log
- Peanut butter banana
Even a sandwich can be a great start for kids—something they can do easily and still feel a sense of accomplishment.
Help them Work on Skills
Helping kids learn to cook is a good way to help them acquire skills they can use both in- and outside of the kitchen, including:
- Knife skills
- Cleaning as you go
- Prepping food
And, according to the book Bringing Up Bebe, cooking can even help kids learn patience and delayed gratification when, after you bake that French yogurt cake, you have to wait until after dinner to eat it. The caveat, of course, is that you also have to wait. I still haven’t quite gotten that one down myself.
One final tip: choose a day or time of day when everyone has patience and a decent amount of sleep, especially for the littler ones. It’s easier on everyone when you’re not trying to help your toddler cook when it’s the witching hour. It’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted, and patience is a little thin.
But, more importantly, it’s fun and gives you a chance to do something together, even if is just for the five minutes their attention span lasts before they run off to do something else.