For several years I taught nutrition education classes for kids, and I would cook with kids as young as 4 and 5 years old on a daily basis. People often seemed shocked when I would tell them that I had kids that young genuinely helping to prepare food (with child-safe knives, of course!).
But the truth is, there are tons of creative ways your kids can help in the kitchen. Most kids are capable of doing a wide variety of cooking tasks – they simply need to be shown what to do.
In the beginning, yes, it’s definitely more work for you as the parent to have them in the kitchen with you. But you’ll be surprised how quickly your kids pick up on things and how independent they’ll be in the kitchen by the time they’re school age if you start them in the kitchen while they’re young.
Not to mention that cooking tasks help to develop all kinds of other important skills for kids like fine motor skills, math and reading skills, a sense of responsibility, and the enjoyment of food. This stuff matters!
If you’re not sure where to start, here are 50 creative ways your kids can help in the kitchen at every age.
Infants & Young Toddlers
While our youngest ones are obviously not ready to actually help in the kitchen, I’d be remisce if I didn’t mention the importance of involving kids in cooking, even at this young age. It’s an excellent idea to start exposing youngsters to cooking as early as possible.
Introduce your child to cooking by showing them how fun it can be! Bring them into the kitchen, talk to them about what you’re making, and let them observe what you’re doing.
If the food you’re preparing is safe for them, involve them by letting them smell, touch and taste ingredients. You can also give them a few safe kitchen tools to play with like wooden spoons, spatulas, plastic measuring cups, or pots and pans.
Believe it or not, your 2 and 3 year olds are already ready to help out with some basic kitchen tasks (with lots of proper supervision of course!). Here are some easy ways your kids can help in the kitchen as toddlers:
- Stirring ingredients in a bowl
- Pouring pre-measured ingredients into a bowl
- Sprinkling ingredients like salt, herbs or cheese
- Tearing soft foods into pieces (greens, herbs, etc.)
- Twisting a pepper grinder
- Using cookie cutters
- Brushing oil onto dough, vegetables, etc.
Cleaning & Organization
- Folding napkins
- Placing silverware into the dishwasher
By the time your kids are 4 and 5 years old, they have better fine motor skills and are craving more independence. They’re excited and ready to help out with slightly more complex tasks like these:
- Stirring and whisking ingredients in a bowl
- Cutting up softer foods using a child-safe knife (I’ve had great success with these dog knives and nylon knives.)
- Cracking an egg
- Scooping and leveling ingredients in a measuring cup
- Rolling out dough
- Shaping cookie dough into balls
- Forming patties
- Spreading ingredients with a spoon or spatula (jams, butters, sauces, etc.)
- Juicing citrus fruit
- Rinsing fruits and vegetables
- Rinsing grains and beans
- Greasing a baking pan
Cleaning & Organization
- Counting ingredients
- Setting a timer
- Wiping the counter
- Setting the table
- Rinsing light-weight dishes
School Age Kids
The cooking skills and experience of kids ages 6-10 definitely vary, but in general, this is the time when kids can really start to develop some independent meal prep skills.
While certainly still requiring supervision (especially during higher risk tasks like using knives, the stove, and the oven), your kids have now reached the age where they can start to become genuinely helpful in the kitchen!
Start them with easy things like preparing their own cereal, toast or sandwiches, then move on to relatively simple cooking tasks like boiling water, frying an egg, or baking cookies. From there, build up their confidence by assisting them as they learn to prepare recipes that require more steps or additional skills.
Here are some helpful kitchen tasks that are great for your school age kids:
- Measuring ingredients independently
- Chopping ingredients with a small knife
- Peeling fruits and vegetables
- Opening cans with a can opener
- Grating cheese
- Kneading dough
- Pounding chicken
- Zesting lemons and limes
- Blending ingredients with a hand mixer or immersion blender
- Using a food thermometer
- Setting the oven temperature
- Microwaving foods
- Making lunches for themselves or siblings
- Beginner stovetop tasks (adding ingredients, stirring, boiling water, etc.) with your supervision
- Preparing simple stovetop foods like eggs, pasta, oatmeal, or grilled cheese
- Beginner baking (muffins, cookies, brownies, etc.)
Cleaning & Organizing
- Reading recipes
- Planning a family meal
- Preparing a grocery list
- Selecting produce and other items at the grocery store
- Clearing the table
- Washing dishes
- Loading and running the dishwasher
- Cleaning the kitchen
I hope this encourages you that there are many, many ways your kids can help in the kitchen. While I would never expect you to cook with your kids at every meal (Lord knows parents don’t have time for that), I’d encourage you to make time in the kitchen a regular part of your family’s routine.
Every kid is different, so pick and choose tasks based on what your child is ready for, and don’t be afraid to get messy and have fun. It’s all part of the joy of cooking!