age appropriate kitchen skills for kids

Kids in the Kitchen – age-appropriate kitchen skills

Cooking with your child can be a very fun, enlightening, and a valuable bonding experience for you and your impressionable child. If your child feels involved in the cooking process and has a positive experience you have an opportunity to teach them control and proper food safety in the kitchen. An added bonus of cooking with your child is that it may help reduce the risk of them becoming picky eaters, since exposure to foods early in life teaches them to be more open to new and healthy foods. If all this wasn’t enough reason to cook with your child there is research showing children learn to cook healthy foods at an early age, have a higher chance of continuing a healthy lifestyle throughout their life.(1)

But is your child ready? The kitchen can be a minefield of safety concerns, scalding surfaces, sharp knives, breakable items so when considering your child’s safety in the kitchen, we want to share some suggestions. You, of course, are the best judge of what your child is ready to do, please use the below merely as guidelines.

What to do:

  • Establish a child-free safety zone to protect your kids from hot surfaces, hot foods, and dangerous kitchen tools; keep them clear of stove tops, ovens and blenders.
  • Help your child feel stable by giving them a stepping stool if they can’t reach.
  • Always wash your hands before you begin cooking and between handling each food item.
  • Let them be messy. Yes, it’s a pain to clean, but isn’t that what makes it fun?
What not to do:
  • Don’t be overly critical. It can be discouraging.
  • Don’t get mad; let them learn from their mistakes.
  • Don’t rush. They are in the process of learning this new skill. You can’t expect them to be experts.

Suggested Age Appropriate Cooking Skills

Toddlers: When your child reaches around 18 months old you may find yourself with an enthusiastic want-to-be helper. This is a great opportunity to find something that makes them feel involved and at the same time keeps them out of your way! Set your child up at a station where they are not within reach of any hazards like knives, hot liquids etc.  They can wash vegetables and fruit; stir room temperature or cool ingredients; mash potatoes (make sure they’re cool enough); play with measuring cups and spoons. 

Preschoolers: In addition to the above you can now include the cutting of soft ingredients with a solid plastic knife; mixing ingredients; picking grapes and tomatoes off the vine; kneading, rolling, shaping and cutting dough.

Kinder and 1st grade: Set the table, greasing and lining pans; actually measuring ingredients; rubbing in flour and butter with finger tips; snipping herbs; using a small knife (talk about basic knife safety first)

2nd- 5th grade: Help plan the family meal. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss proportions of grain, vegetable, protein etc in a meal. With proper instruction your child may be ready to use a peeler, a handheld mixer, and even the stove. They can follow a simple recipe often at this point and can often be tasked with preparing salad. 

Children should be supervised in the kitchen, even in middle and high school. Cooking together provides lots of opportunities to talk about food hygiene, math, following instructions, and motor skills. 

  1. Yen Li Chu, Anna Farmer, Christina Fung, Stefan Kuhle, Kate E Storey, Paul J Veugelers. Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutrition, 2012; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1368980012001218