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If you want to get your kids more involved in the kitchen, then we have all the top tips for cooking with kids. Including age appropriate tasks that your little ones can help with and some of our favourite kid friendly recipes that are easy for your mini chefs to get stuck in with.
Avery (our 3 year old) loves helping out in the kitchen, and having got my older niece involved in the kitchen too, I have some experience in cooking with kids of different ages. It can be hard to know where to start, when your child has never stepped foot in the kitchen apart from to bang on some pots and pans. So, I thought I would share some easy ways to get them more involved and part of the process.
The benefits of kids cooking
Sure, it is easier and quicker to do everything yourself when it comes to preparing meals, but I think it is so important to get kids involved in the kitchen from a young age. Spending an extra 10 minutes in the kitchen each meal time (when you have the time of course) will have huge benefits to your child's attitude towards food.
I find that the more part of the process a child is, the less likely they are to fear it. We apply that to things like when our daughter doesn't want to get changed, so we let her choose her outfit. The same thing applies to food - let your kids be part of the measuring, mixing and sprinkling and they are more likely to try new ingredients.
Plus, it's fun! What kid doesn't love getting messy with things like flour, mashed avocado and oats? All easy things for kids to handle, stir, mash and pour. If you are at a loss with what to do with your kids when you can stand another soft play date, then cooking is some great messy fun.
Avery is a great eater, always willing to try new foods at least once (of course there are lots she doesn't like) and I put that down to developing a positive connection with food. She doesn't see vegetables as something she is forced to eat, she seems them as colourful things she picked at the market and what she helped to prepare before dinner time.
Children learn by touching, smelling, tasting and listening, so when they get involved in the kitchen they can use all of their senses. It will help them to develop those fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and even help with early maths and reading if they are reading instructions and helping to measure and weigh. You can even throw a bit of science in there too.
For us, and this is probably the most important thing, it's time spent as a family doing something productive that we all enjoy. We all love food, a lot, so it makes sense for us to make it fun and part of our routine.
Teaching kids to cook - Getting started
It's never too early to teach children to cook - once they have some fine motor skills of course. It is amazing how many people leave home without the ability to do the simplest things in the kitchen like make an omelette or make a pasta dish. Setting your kids up with those skills from an early age will be so beneficially in terms of them being able to make delicious and nutritious meals themselves.
- The first thing you want to do is get a sturdy stool or step that they can stand on. This is the kitchen step(aff) we have and it folds flat so it can be put away easily when not in use.
- Make it even more fun by getting them a little chefs hat and apron set.(aff) What kid doesn't love dressing up?
- You can even get them their own cooking set with spoons and whisks, so they feel like they have their own special chefs tools. It's all about making it fun for them.
- Get them their very own kid friendly knife set and chopping board,(aff) that they can use from about age 3. The plastic knives have a blunt tip and serrated edges so they can't cut themselves. Great from practising chopping.
When can kids start helping in the kitchen?
This is a hard question to ask, because it really does depend on the age. Some kid's fine motor skills develop far earlier than others, some kids are more stable on their feet so can stand on the stool better. Obviously use your own judgement based on your own child's ability.
However, as a general rule I would say that around 18 months is a good time to start getting them involved in the easier kitchen tasks. That's not to say that they can't get involved before then, as from birth they can observe what is going on and learn lots just by looking.
Before you get in the kitchen
There is lots that your little ones can do before you even start cooking. It all starts with picking the ingredients. Take your kids to the supermarket with you and let them choose the fruit and vegetables that they want to cook with - they will feel part of the meal planning. Even better, get them to help grow your own. They will love seeing the process from start to finish.
Once you get home from the shop, see if they want to help you put everything away. They can take things out of bags and put them in the fridge, or just rattle things around if they get bored.
Kids cooking tasks by age
Whilst there are not many hands-on tasks that little kids can do before 18 months, that doesn't mean that you can't get them involved. Put them in a high chair and let them watch everything you do. Talk to them as you go and explain what you are doing.
Once they are of weaning age, you can pass them some of the ingredients to explore with their hands and mouth. Give them a wooden spoon and a pan and they will enjoy bashing it whilst you are making the meal.
At any age they can start stirring, obviously not a hot pan though.
18 months - 3 years:
- Measuring - Whilst they can't measure and weigh things exactly, if you are making something using cup measurements then they can fill the cups up to the top.
- Rinsing - Kids love splashing around in water, so they love washing fruit and veg. Just tell them it's the vegetables bath time.
- Pouring - Once everything is measured out and weighed, let them pour it all in to a bowl or in to a pan.
- Mashing - this is basically just bashing food about and what kid isn't going to love that? They can mash avocado, potatoes or anything else that needs mashing.
- Putting things on a tray - Making your own chips (fries) or roasting some vegetables? Let them put everything on the tray.
- Cracking eggs - it might not result in the most professional egg crack and you might have to fish out some of the shell, but kids will have so much fun cracking them.
- Shaking - If you are making a salad dressing, then put it all in to a small jar, put the lid on and then let them shake it to mix it.
- Toppings - If you are making your own pizzas, let them scatter the toppings. Pancakes on a Sunday morning? They can help with the toppings there too.
- Brushing - If you have something that needs to be brushed with oil or butter, hand them a pastry brush and let them go wild.
- Breaking things up - Toddlers love breaking things up, so why not encourage it - but only in the kitchen! They can tear up bread to make breadcrumbs, break up broccoli and cauliflower, shred lettuce for a salad or a chocolate bar for baking.
- Sprinkling - Kids love baking and what cake is complete without sprinkles? Hand them over and let them go wild. It might not look Pinterest worthy, but they sure will have fun.
- Taste testing - the best part of cooking is getting to eat it, so let them test it before serving up to get their opinion. Ask them to describe the texture and flavour.
4 - 6 Years Old:
- Cutting - At this age kids can start to cut soft fruit and vegetables with a plastic knife. Don't expect it to be too precise though.
- Whisking - Now they are a bit stronger, they should be able to whisk eggs or salad dressings.
- Rolling out dough - Again, it might not be very neat, but it's a fun task for kids and great for homemade pizzas.
- Spreading - give them a plastic knife and they can spread bread with some butter to make sandwiches.
- Juicing - They will find juicing lemon and limes really fun.
- Peeling eggs - They will enjoy cracking the shell first and then carefully peeling them.
- Using an icing bag - Now they have helped to make the cake by stirring the ingredients, they can help to decorate it with a piping bag.
At this age kids will start to be able to do more complicated tasks, but still with supervision. But as I mentioned before, it really does depend on the kid and only you will know when they are ready to use the oven/stove and sharp knives.
- Reading recipes out - around this age your child will be getting much better at reading, so get them to read out the instructions of a new recipe. It's a good opportunity to learn some new food related words.
- Use a small knife - this really does depend on the child, but with some supervision they might be able to start doing some proper chopping.
- Peeling - Give them a vegetable peeler and they can peel some potatoes and carrots.
- Grate cheese - everything is better topped with cheese, right? Give them a box grater and a block of cheese and let them grate away.
- Dividing batter - Give them and ice cream scoop and let them divide the batter between muffin cases. This can be done at an earlier age, but it will be a lot messier.
- Crushing garlic - Now they are stronger, they can use a garlic crusher to add some garlicy flavour to your meals.
- Forming patties and meatballs - Anything that needs forming in to a shape like a burger, fishcake or meatball is great for little hands.
- Threading - If you are making skewers, let them carefully thread everything on to them.
Cooking and eating with kids almost always ends with a fair bit of mess - it's all part of the fun. So, if they helped to make the mess why not get them involved with cleaning it up too? Our toddler loves to help load the dishwasher. Obviously nothing sharp or heavy, but she helps load her cups and plates.
Give them a cloth and they can help to wipe down the counter tops and the table after all the plates are put away. If your kids are anything like mine, then they will have dropped half the contents of their plate on the floor during meal time. So grab a dustpan and brush and let them hold the pan whilst you brush all the crumbs in.
Here are some of our favourite fun things to cook with kids. Some are more complicated than others, so it will depend on what stage they are and how capable they are. But there will always be something for them to do, even if it's just stirring or putting something in a pan. These are also tried and testing on our family who love them.
Baking With Kids
Baking is probably the best place to start when it comes to getting kids involved in the kitchen. There are lots of simple recipes that involve lots of pouring and stirring, and what kid doesn't like cake? Here are our favourite kid friendly bakes.
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