We believe the #1 way to raise healthy eaters is to create lots of opportunities for them to participate in the kitchen. Kids are naturally curious and will always want to take part in what their parents are doing.
The earlier that kids are included in the cooking process, the more likely they’ll continue helping as they grow up. The skills that children build in the kitchen at a young age will be valuable to their well-being for the rest of their lives. (Their future friends, roommates, and spouses will be forever grateful, too!)
How to Include Kids in the Kitchen
Discover a variety of activities that will include kids of all ages in the kitchen in this video.
Engage kids in food and cooking knowledge
When kids get involved in the cooking process (including grocery shopping and taste testing), they’re not just learning an essential life skill, they are also creating meaningful memories with you.
But, we know that it’s not always clear how to include kids in the kitchen and it may even seem easier to put on a movie for them while you rush through meal making. However, there are activities for kids at every age and early learning is always preferable. Of course the older they get, the more they can do, but even toddlers can participate while learning the basics of food and cooking.
Here are ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen:
Learn ingredient names
Turn trips to the market into learning opportunities. If you prefer to leave your kids at home, then use unloading your groceries as a good time to share what you purchased. Produce can also be a great tool for teaching colors and simple counting and arithmetic too. And just like you might purchase ABC magnets for the refrigerator, consider buying some food magnets as a teaching opportunity. The earlier you start the better, but honestly, any time is good.
Having kids taste meals-in-progress makes them feel like their opinions count. It will also allow you to learn more about what your kids like. Plus, younger kids love it when you give them “important” responsibilities, like making sure that dinner tastes good. If you’re working with very young kids, we suggest you control the seasoning and just let them “tell you when”.
Discuss the meal
Turn your cooking efforts into a conversation. If you’ve put in the time to make a meal, then it’s worth sitting down to enjoy and discuss it! This is a good time to give kids a food vocabulary – teaching them about sweet, salty, sour, and even spicy tastes, and crunchy, smooth, and tender textures.
Brainstorm meal ideas
Involve your kids in the meal planning process. Have them share their favorite ingredients and work with them to build a few meals around these ingredients.
Grow a garden
Kids that have access to a garden at home or at school have an even deeper connection to the food that they eat since they can learn about how food grows as well as how food gets cooked. Older kids can be given the responsibility of watering and picking the bounty, which teaches them that growing food takes work and resources. Even if you have just a small apartment, you can still do something, even if it’s just keeping a few small pots of chili peppers and herbs on the balcony. It’s not necessarily about quantity but just providing kids with the understanding of how food is produced.
How to Include Kids in the Kitchen
Kids of every age can play a role in the kitchen.
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Help improve kids’ arithmetic skills
We all want our kids to be proteges, so think about adding simple math into your cooking routine with the kids. As previously mentioned, fruits and veggies are a great way to teach counting but we can do even more. Measuring cups and spoons provide great tools for hands-on fraction lessons like these:
Use pre-measured ingredients to help count 1 cup or 16 tablespoons (and teach them they’re the same amounts!). This is perfect for younger kids, who can find out what 1/4 cup of panko or 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce means.
Measure and weigh ingredients
For kids 4 to 8 years old, ask them to measure ingredients out on their own. For this age set, you can even start some simple fraction lessons.
Scale and adjust ingredients
Kids 8 years and up can be asked to do even more like scale and adjust measurements. If your kids are arithmetic superstars, they can get started on this stage even sooner.
Empower kids to operate basic tools and appliances
This might seem scary for some parents, but your toddlers have probably been playing with electronic toys and iPads already. Keep in mind that younger kids will need more supervision, and it always varies with each child. For example, an 8-year-old who can kick a soccer ball can also work a salad spinner, but you might be more cautious of items with blades. Here are ways to help your kids build up a comfort around kitchen items:
Use tools with supervision
We all know young kids love big buttons that make a lot of noise, so teach and supervise them to use salad spinners, food processors, and blenders.
Operate tools independently
Kids ages 12 and up should be able to use most kitchen tools and appliances on their own, especially if you started getting them comfortable early on.
Make prepping and chopping safe and fun
The big bonus of getting kids involved in the kitchen early is that you’ll not only be raising healthy eaters, you’ll also be creating great sous chefs that can help you more and more as they grow up. And who doesn’t want more help in the kitchen? Here are ways that kids of all ages can help with prepping and chopping:
Even if you’re not ready for your child to wield a knife, they can help with tearing greens pretty much at any age. You can even give a few leaves to your toddler in their high chair to work with – you might get more shreds than perfect pieces but again, it’s about exposure!
How to Prep Kale, Chard, or Collard Greens
Learn how to prep these big leafy greens, so you can enjoy in sautes, salads, soups, and curries.
If your kid can use scissors to cut paper, they can also use those in the kitchen to trim green beans or snow peas, and cut easy-to-slice ingredients like bell peppers. Plus, this is a great way to work on those motor skills!
Start with a kid’s knife
If you’re ready to let your kid use a knife, but maybe not a big old adult chef’s knife, try purchasing kids’ knives. Curious Chef is a brand that’s popular among our community, and they make kitchen tools for kids.
Graduate to a chef’s knife
When your kids are ready to graduate out of the kid’s knife, they can start using a regular knife, but start them out on only easy-to-chop ingredients like tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant – produce that’s relatively soft and not too unwieldy. Regardless of age, make sure you teach them our basic knife skills that promote safety.
Knife Basics 101
This video shows you all the knife tips and skills to get you cooking like a pro in your own kitchen.
How to Dice Tomatoes
Diced tomatoes add so much freshness to salsas, salads, and pastas, and they're super easy to prep.
How to Chop Zucchini
Learn how to cube zucchini with this short video.
How to Cube Eggplant
Learn how to cube eggplant in this simple how-to video.
Master a chef’s knife
Once they get older (or just a lot more skilled), they can learn to chop anything, even stubborn-skinned butternut squash. Our Produce Prep Guide is also a great place to point your kids. We have tons of prep videos that have fun music and are short for kids attention spans to teach them (and you!) how to properly prep a wide variety of common fruits and veggies. We’ve had several parents tell us that their kids have watched every single one of our videos at least 5 times each, which is incredibly heartwarming to hear!
Create confident cooks
Providing kids with exposure and the skills to make good food is the best way to raise healthy eaters. We know that you and your kids are busy, busy people. (In fact, the average high school kid is probably busier than we are with after school sports, tests, homework, etc!) That’s why having them join you in the cooking process and assigning specific tasks to each member of the family helps everyone while bringing you all together for some quality time. Here are some ways to build cooking confidence, even with time constraints:
This can be a job for kids of all ages. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you could get everything prepped up, but then have your kids be responsible for putting it all together when they return home from school so there’s still a way for them to be involved. Or make it a counting activity for younger kids, like telling them to place 12 slices of green pepper on the pizza!
Stir and shake
What kid doesn’t love to shake and bake? Shaking up some breaded chicken or fish, or stirring a soup or risotto is a quick and easy way for busier kids to stay involved in the cooking process.
If your kid knows how to play Hungry Hungry Hippo, they can tenderize proteins to create lots of pores for maximum flavor absorption. Just be extra careful around raw chicken with younger kids!
How to Tenderize Chicken
Learn how to tenderize and flatten chicken with some parchment and a tenderizer.
Make salad dressings
Having a salad with every meal is also a good healthy habit and one of your kids can be the “Head Salad Dressing Maker”. If your kids are busy with after school activities, this is a relatively simple and quick task that creates a life-long skill while giving them some ownership of dinner.
How to Make a Vinaigrette
Vinaigrettes are a wonderful way to dress up not just salads, but proteins and vegetables too, and they're very easy to make.
Be responsible for part of dinner
Let your kids be responsible for one part of dinner or one entire dinner once a week. They’ll be learning skills that will be useful for a lifetime, including responsibility!