Cooking with Kids: 5 tips to engage kids in the kitchen

23 Sep 2019

Cooking with kids gives them invaluable life-long cooking skills and encourages them to develop positive food habits. Healthy behaviours are ingrained from an early age, so it makes sense to get kids started in the kitchen early to raise healthy happy eaters. It’s not all about healthy eating though, kids of all ages love doing grown-up jobs and developing new skills in the kitchen can be a great confidence boost.

The idea of letting the kids into the kitchen can be daunting. Not to mention the potential dangers and mess involved, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Here are my top 5 tips to engage kids into the kitchen and keep it enjoyable, for everyone!

Choose your times wisely

Dinner time mid-week after soccer practice is probably not the best time to be teaching your toddler how to pour from a measuring jug. Allocate some quieter time each week to have them in the kitchen preparing their own snacks or Sunday pancakes. Choose occasions when you can be relaxed and take your time; patience is required!

Involve them in meal planning, shopping and growing

Cooking and nourishing yourself well is more than just following a recipe. Involving kids in meal planning, picking food from the supermarket and growing your own produce teaches them the whole garden-to-kitchen process while getting them excited about fresh food as well as encouraging their curiosity. Start by having them plan, buy and prepare foods from the 5 food groups to go into their school lunchbox.

Choose age appropriate tasks

Letting kids be safely exposed to the dangers of the kitchen helps them learn safe kitchen techniques. So, don’t be afraid of letting children in the kitchen. Start by giving them quick, easy and safe tasks, such as picking some herbs or laying the table. Increase the complexity and duration of tasks as their skills and interest in cooking develop.

Toddlers can:

Clean benchtops with water spray and a cloth

Wash fruits and vegetables

Tear lettuce or leafy greens

Break cauliflower or broccoli into pieces

Pass you ingredients

Place prepared ingredients into bowls or serving plates

Mix and pour dry ingredients and wet with help

Pre-schoolers can:

Knead and shape dough

Mix salad dressings in a jar with a lid

Spread soft spreads onto bread

Mash bananas, avocado or cooked beans with a fork

Cut parsley, snow peas and spring onions with safety scissors

Use a whisk or an egg beater

Lay the table

Use tongs and spoons to serve foods

 Make a child friendly space

Carefully consider where you set them up to make cooking with kids safer and less stressful. Having small children standing on a stool to reach the bench can be unsafe and make tasks more difficult. Try setting them up at the dining table to sit or kneel on seats to reach their equipment properly. A safety step can be used in the kitchen, but always with you close by.

Let them know which equipment they can use safely and put it in easy reach so they can help themselves. Older children should be taught how appliances work, and how to use cooktops and ovens safely. When cooking with heat, ensure that you stay nearby and they are at a height where they can safely reach the pots and pans.

Do it often

And finally, make it a regular occurrence. Keep a list of jobs on the fridge that your child can do so you can quickly suggest a task  if they ask to help . A few small jobs a week will increase their exposure to different foods and ingredients as well as their confidence and familiarity with the kitchen.

Stay tuned for all things food and wellness.

Sarah Moore (RNutr, MPH).