My daughter just turned one, which means when I'm not weeping at the passage of time (WHERE DID IT GO?), I'm marveling at the little person she's turning into. She's hung out in the kitchen with us from the beginning, and I know it won't be long before she's ready to do more than unstack measuring cups and bang spoons on the countertop. (With gusto. Lots and lots of gusto!)
Want to involve your kids in cooking? We've put together a list of all the ways young kids can help out in the kitchen, with activities tailored to their age and ability. So whether they're two or 10, you can train up a little sous chef!
All kids develop at different rates, so these age ranges are just suggestions. Your kid may be ready to do a certain task earlier or later than suggested below. Obviously, follow your own instincts!
0 to 18 Months
For the first year and a half, the best way to involve little ones in your cooking is just to let them observe you cooking!
Bring them into the kitchen while you cook. Set them up someplace safe — a highchair, playpen, bouncer — and give them a few adult-sized cooking tools to bang around. Wooden spoons, whisks, spatulas, non-breakable mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons are all fair game here. Talk to them about what you're doing. If you're cooking food for their meals, let them smell and touch the ingredients. This is all about making cooking a fun, interesting thing they can watch and experience.
18 Months to 3 Years
Somewhere around 18 months (but possibly even closer to two years) kids are ready to start helping out with a few simple tasks, like:
- Pour dry and liquid ingredients into a bowl.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables.
- Scrub potatoes.
- Pick herbs off the stem.
- Tear greens into pieces.
- Brush oil or butter with a pastry brush.
- Stir batter in a bowl.
- Mash vegetables.
- Sprinkle salt or herbs.
- Hold the dustpan.
- Put silverware in the dishwasher.
They will still need lots of instruction and supervision, but they're likely to be very enthusiastic about helping out!
4 to 5 Years Old
Preschoolers are hard at work on their fine motor skills, so this is a good time to give them slightly more detailed work, although they'll still need lots of help and supervision! You can have them:
- Cut soft foods with a plastic knife.
- Roll out and knead pizza or bread dough.
- Juice lemons and limes.
- Crack an egg.
- Measure and level dry ingredients with a straight edge.
- Spread butter and jam.
- Set the timer.
- Whisk a vinaigrette.
- Peel a cooled hard-boiled egg.
- Set the table.
- Rinse dishes that aren't too heavy.
- Spray the countertop with an all-purpose cleaner, then wipe it clean.
- Fill the dishwasher soap compartment, and press the "Start" button.
6 to 9 Years Old
At this age, kids have learned a few cooking prep basics, and are ready for more complicated tasks, and to try out some kitchen equipment. (Although only you will know when your child is ready to use the Big 3 — adult knives, the oven, and the stove — all by themselves.)
Since kids learn to read around this age, it's great to read recipes out loud together. Also, this is the time to try out a few small cooking projects together, like herb gardening, making yogurt or ricotta, baking bread (maybe from a sourdough starter?), or making pasta from scratch.
In addition to all the above tasks, many elementary-age kids can begin to:
- Use a small paring knife.
- Cook with you at the stove.
- Use a can opener, garlic press, or Microplane.
- Peel fruits and vegetables.
- Grate cheese with a box grater.
- Drain and slice tofu.
- Form patties.
- Whip cream with a hand mixer.
- Grease a baking pan.
- Scoop batter into muffin cups.
- Scrape down the mixer bowl.
- Slice bread.
- Thread food onto skewers.
- Help put groceries away.
- Load and unload the dishwasher.
Remember: Every child is different, so they may be ahead of or behind these suggestions. You know your child best!
How are you cooking with your child? What tasks did you teach them, and when?
(Image credits: Hrecheniuk Oleksii/Shutterstock; Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock)