Teaching kids to cook and prepare food is an important life skill. Going the extra step and growing vegetables and preparing meals from ingredients you’ve picked from your own backyard is incredibly valuable.
Cooking can be fun for kids of all ages- you just need to cater the task to their age and use your judgement. Safety is the biggest concern, in the kitchen there are sharp objects and hot surfaces but there are ways you can introduce your kids to cooking at any age. We’ve found simple tips to encourage kids to get into cooking, including points from bbcgoodfood.com.
Ensure all hazards are out of the way, pot handles, hot food and liquids, sharp or heavy utensils, cleaning products. If the kitchen seems too hazardous, you can set them up at the dining table to ensure a safe distance. You can start them out young in the kitchen, by familiarising them with the kitchen environment, giving babies and toddlers wooden spoons and measuring cups to play with, or appropriate foods to gum or snack on.
Here are some of the activities young kids under 3 might enjoy:
- Washing vegetables – you can teach them the names of vegetables which might spark an interest and encourage them to try different foods
- Stirring ingredients (room temperature)
- Mashing with a fork or potato masher (again, watch out for the temperature here)
- Sprinkling – flour, cake decorations and icing sugar (watch out for the mess here, you might want to put a tray underneath)
Skills can vary greatly at this age, so use your own judgment. Don’t try and tackle anything you’re unsure about.
In addition to the activities listed in under 3, 3 – 5 year olds have increased knowledge and ability to follow multi-step directions. Children are introduced to mathematical concepts as they help measure and count ingredients. Sensory exploration allows children to identify colours, flavours and textures of the ingredients, and how these may change after you cook them.
Here are some activities you can try with 3 – 5 year olds
- Mixing – using either a spoon or hands to mix together ingredients
- Tearing and squashing – tearing herbs and lettuce or squashing fruit
- Sieving – it’s best to balance the sieve over a bowl and tap it
- Weighing – pouring or spooning ingredients into scales.
- Using measuring spoons and cups
- Washing fruit and vegetables
- Cutting soft ingredients eg butter, mushrooms, strawberries using a kiddikutter
- Rolling, shaping and cutting dough – choose plastic cutters and a small rolling pin
- Spreading – buttering bread and spreading icing
Along with the above activities, you can now introduce your child to tricker techniques and equipment. Again, use your own judgement to determine what is appropriate, make sure you always watch over your child in the kitchen, even if you have confidence in their ability.
Activities to try with 5 – 7 year olds:
- Cutting using a small knife – children should learn how to form their hand into a claw to keep fingertips out of danger – be careful!
- Cutting with scissors – use children’s scissors to cut herbs
- Grating – watch closely to make sure their fingers don’t get too close
- Measuring – allow your child to use their increasing mathematical knowledge in real-life situations
- Rubbing in – rubbing in flour and butter with fingertips
- Beating and folding – show children how to beat cake mixture with a wooden spoon
- Greasing and lining a cake tin or tray
- Setting the table – encourage them to cherish the ritual of family meals
In addition to the skills suggested for kids 3-7, when children are 8+, they can start to get involved in the planning and preparation with more independence. Stay cautious and watch out for any potential hazards in the kitchen. Cuts and burns are common in the kitchen so always keep an eye on your children. However capable your child may be, it’s easy to get distracted or try to rush an activity, remember the learning is in the process, not the final product.
Activities to try with 8 – 11 year olds:
- Planning the family meal
- Following a simple recipe
- Finding ingredients in the cupboards and fridge
- Using a peeler
- Whisking, using a balloon whisk or handheld mixer
- Using heat on an oven and microwave
- Making salads
- Opening cans
Gradually introduce your children to the above and make sure they are aware of the dangers involved. Use your own judgement as to whether they’re ready or not.
- Food hygiene – washing hands at the beginning and in between touching raw and ready-to-eat ingredients
- Maths – counting, dividing portions, doubling recipes, adding and subtracting
- Recognising ingredients and learning their origin
- Recognising kitchen equipment and learning how to use it
- Reading and following recipes in order to create the final dish
- Following instructions – young children are particularly inclined to want to add more, jump stages or taste when they shouldn’t
- Sensory exploration- different tastes, textures, and foods
- Time and patience
- The science of cooking – what happens to things when you apply heat or cold
- Dexterity, fine motor skills, and coordination – carrying or pouring without spilling, opening containers and packets, weighing
There are plenty of other simple ways to subtly introduce your kids to cooking, taking them grocery shopping with you and letting them choose a new fruit or vegetable (or other ingredients) to try with dinner is a good example. Another one is to look through recipes together online and in cookbooks, let the kids choose a few recipes they’d like to try. However you choose to involve the kids, we hope you picked up some good tips from above.
Plant-Based Recipes for Kids
Stay safe, have fun and enjoy cooking with your kids!