Nutrition Articles

Tips, Tricks and Treats to Teach Kids to Cook

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? No Such Thing!

By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian         
Page 2 of 3

Making small changes in your cooking routine and trying kid-friendly recipes helps you work little ones into your dinner prep. Before diving into the tips and tricks of the trade, brush up on your kitchen safety.
  • Always wash hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, eggs, or poultry. This is a great time to teach your kids about food safety! Never use the same knife, plate or utensil on raw and cooked food, and use one cutting board for meat and another for vegetables. Use a clean spoon or fork each time you taste a dish, and never stick your fingers in food you'll be serving to others.
  • When cooking on the stove top, turn all pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove to help prevent a child's arm or head from knocking it over.
  • Wear aprons, roll up sleeves and tie hair back to reduce messes, spills and the risk of fire.
  • Teaching proper cutting skills is important. Begin with a plastic knife and show kids how to cut away from their bodies.
  • Keep a sturdy stool nearby so your child can easy reach counters.
  • Keep oven mitts or hot pads handy at all times. A handle that feels lukewarm to you may be too hot for a youngster.
  • If somebody does get burned, run it under cold water immediately. Do not place butter or oil on a burn. Consult a doctor if you are uncertain about the severity of the injury.
  • Don't assume your children know how to operate kitchen appliances and utensils. When they're first learning to use can openers, vegetable peelers, and eventually blenders or mixers, make sure to walk through safe tool use step-by-step.
Now that your kitchen is safe, call in the kid and get to the fun stuff! It's best to set up an area that your children can call their own. If you're in a hurry, this tactic contains the mess, and it also makes them feel special while cooking.

Perfect tasks for young children (about 2-3 years old) include washing fruits and vegetables, pouring pre-measured ingredients into a bowl or pan, mixing ingredients or tearing lettuce. When letting a child stir, it's better to make sure all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, etc.) are sufficiently moist before handing the bowl over. This will prevent "powder poof" messes.

Older children (4-5 year olds) with more muscle control and coordination can begin to take part in more challenging tasks. Squeezing lemons and limes, cracking eggs, cutting soft foods like mushrooms or cheese with a plastic knife, or mashing soft fruits and veggies with a fork. Teach them how to use a potato masher, a grater or a whisk. Short, simple tasks are great for kids. Their short attention span will be kept while performing their assignments, and you'll be able to compile more difficult portions of the meal while they work.

Make sure your little chef knows that a cook's job isn't done when the timer dings. Cleanup is just as important as cooking. Have your kids wipe counters, pile dishes, toss waste or put away ingredients after you're done assembling your meal or snack.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • Uh, what about Dads brining their children into the kitchen as well. Its statements like this that perpetuate women as doing the major lifting still with most tasks. Get it together Spark People a little. There are Dads & partners out there~ - 8/5/2013 12:41:04 AM
  • "We all know how important it is to prepare nutritious food for our children. But did you know it's equally as important that we teach our children how to prepare nutritious food for themselves?"

    NO!!! Really?? - 7/31/2013 11:11:10 AM
  • I really dislike the fact that the author of this article chose chicken nuggets and pizza as their first two cooking with kids suggestions. The reality (that no one talks about) is, if your kids eat school lunch, go through fast food (ever) or even go to birthday parties or friends houses they are already eating chicken nuggets and pizza far too often. So many parents also have chicken nuggets and pizza at least once a week if not more as what the kids are eating for dinner (even if the parents are having something different). Because I already know those foods are over represented I don't buy or make chicken nuggets and we don't have pizza as a regular meal. I'd suggest pancakes with fruit or nuts in them as an easy and fun cooking with kids meal and omelets with whatever veggies and cheese (& meat if you eat it). My daughter is 3 so she can stir batter, add fruit and nuts or vegetables. My son is 10 and he has been able to cook an omelet with minimal help since about 6. - 7/9/2013 12:16:15 PM
  • My 12 year old is having a friend sleep over tonight..they and my 10 yr old are so making their own nuggets tonight. Love this and it's easy to do. - 4/16/2013 2:42:07 PM
  • Cooking is the perfect time to teach children fractions. I had them figure out the proportions when doubling the chocolate chip cookie recipe, etc. I taught them the difference between liquid and dry measure, and to "eye ball" measurements. - 1/30/2013 9:40:07 AM
  • Thanks for the article! It astounds me how many kids out in the "real world" are not learning to cook, from their moms or otherwise! We have an entire generation (at least) of people who don't even know what a potato is when they see it, much less how to prepare one for dinner. (I have witnessed this at our local Farmers' Market.)

    I have been4 teaching kids to cook via 4-H for several years. I teach ages 5 to 18, though my own kids have been helping in the kitchen since they were old enough to balance on the step stool to watch me. I think this article is a little paranoid on safety, but anything that motivates people to work with kids is fabulous!

    BTW, I loved the comment/suggestio
    n about dog biscuits! Great idea for preschoolers! - 1/2/2013 11:32:53 AM
  • These are all great suggestions. I think it's important too that dads do all this stuff, too. I noticed that the article only called out moms. - 12/31/2012 11:39:02 AM
  • This is a great article. I think children will be willing to try new foods if they are part of the food preparation. Love the age-appropriate instructions. Now this next comment may seem silly to some people, however, it is kind of important. In the main photo of this article, the woman is holding the knife in an entirely inappropriate way. A knife is not held with the finger tips. I have no doubt that this was done for photogenic purposes, but proper knife handling is too important to be left out. I guess I think this is particularly important with this article since the article is all about teaching kids to cook. But otherwise, the article is really fantastic. - 12/30/2012 6:39:48 PM
  • Make sure to explain the dangers of things like boiling water and garbage disposers, and make sure kids know that they are only allowed to do any kind of cooking when they have adult supervision. If you don't make this clear to them they'll think that cooking with you one time is a license to do the same things on their own. - 12/30/2012 2:43:33 PM
    Instead of using fingers to dip the chicken pieces in the egg, use a fork or tongs. Then there are no eggy fingers to worry about - this is just common sense! It will also teach the kids how to use the utensils.

    For the graham cracker recipe, I would make it a 2-layer treat instead of a 3-layer. Put strawberries and banana slices on the same frosted graham cracker & top with another one. This would be much easier to eat without falling apart & making a mess. The kids could also have a choice of which fruit they want. You could use other sliced fresh fruit, like peaches or nectarines in season.

    For the yogurt parfaits, don't forget to drain the pineapple, or it will make the yogurt too runny.

    When I was growing up, the "nested eggs" were called "toad in a hole."

    Dads cooking is nothing new. I'm 60 years old and my dad taught me how to make pancakes when I was a kid. He also cooked other breakfast meals. He worked nights, so his free time with us kids was on the weekends, and he loved to make the family big breakfast. - 12/30/2012 1:31:09 PM
  • I can't wait to try this with my grandaughter the fruit and graham crackers sound like something she might like fruit is not her favorite but if she helps it might be too hard to resist - 12/30/2012 4:45:12 AM
  • "...but the only way they'll learn to cook is by joining you in the kitchen, moms."

    Really, Sparkpeople? I did not expect that sort of comment here. Healthy cooking is for everyone. - 11/28/2012 9:53:57 AM
    "teach your children to cook moms" so very last century

    your site is becoming extremely sexist and boring with its unidimensiuonal approach - 11/11/2012 3:00:40 PM
  • My Grandsons were being raised by their Dad and introduced to cooking on Camp outs taught me to make the toast and egg in the middle. Also Tin foil Dinners featuring meat and a variety of vegetables. It was a help to their Dad that they both learned to cook while young. BTW their Dad was one of the Camp counsellors giving them fun times together. - 11/9/2012 11:58:49 PM
  • I have taught my son and my grandchildren to cook since they were still toddlers. The best thing to teach a toddler to cook is dog biscuits. The dogs don't care if the children eat the dough, pick their nose, slobber in the dough, etc. The kids can get their hands messy and have so much fun! I teach them they must obey the rules (wash their hands, don't pick their nose, don't eat the dough, don't lick the spoon til I give it to them after we are done using it, etc) and if they disobey they aren't allowed to help and I make it sound fun and we do have so much fun making them. When they are older, we start with brownies and then move up as they get older and can follow rules and do more. They are all wonderful cooks and love to help in the kitchen! My D-I-L loves that her husband can cook and bake! - 11/9/2012 3:28:37 PM

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