Cooking with kids is an effective way to encourage lifelong healthy eating habits. When kids help prepare nutritious foods, they are more likely to taste and eat them. Learning how to cook safely also builds their confidence. Cooking is a source of pride for children when they can do it for themselves, their family or friends. Through cooking with kids, we can teach them many lessons and have a lot of fun along the way. Here are some ways to get kids into the kitchen this summer.
Start with food safety.
Before getting started in the kitchen, be sure to discuss the basic principles of food safety:
- Wash hands, surfaces, and kitchen utensils.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from cooked and other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook to proper temperatures.
- Refrigerate promptly to 40°F or lower.
Let them help.
To get started, show kids how they can help you in the kitchen. Kids are more interested in helping with a task after learning they can. Most recipes have steps that can be completed by children as young as three to five years old. These tasks, like washing fruits and vegetables or mixing ingredients, might seem small or simple to you, but they are a start. It’s important to note that there can be a wide range of skills by age group, so you really have to tailor tasks to a child’s experience and maturity level. Try to be patient with spills and mistakes since they are bound to happen.
Here is a list of age-appropriate kitchen activities from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to get you started.
Let them be creative.
When cooking with kids, I like to use simple recipes that can easily be modified to allow for their creativity. You can use a simple recipe like our Peanut Butter & Fruit Rolls and prepare extra sliced fruit options for kids to choose from when they make their own wrap. Vegetable and fruit shape cutters can be a lot of fun. Try make your own English muffin pizzas, fruit kabobs, and fruit and yogurt parfaits with kids and let them be creative. Check out our kid-friendly recipes for more ideas.
Help them master skills.
As kids gain experience and feel more comfortable in the kitchen, they can start to work more independently. Before sending them off to do grown-up tasks on their own, help them master cooking skills through close observation and guidance. Kids can learn how to make a simple recipe like scrambled eggs through learning the individual skills it requires over time. Maybe at age six they can learn how to break eggs into a bowl and to wash their hands afterwards. At age eight they could start adding in the milk and beating the eggs on their own. Finally, at age ten they could heat up the egg mixture in a pan on the stove to cook the eggs to a safe consistency. It might not take this long, but through practice, patience and supervision, children can learn to cook healthy foods safely on their own.