Cooking with Kids. Age Appropriate Tips

Holly Grainger is registered dietitian. You can find her at Holley Grainger. She is a mom to two little girls, Ellie, who is almost six, and Francis, who is three. She shares her recipe for success when it comes to cooking with kids and bringing them into the kitchen, as well as some tips on how to break it down by age.

Cooking with Kids Video by Holly Graniger

Healthy Eating for Kids Summit

This video was originally part of the Healthy Eating for Kids Summit. If you'd like lifetime access to all the videos in the summit, you can purchase access here.

The Recipe for Success in the Kitchen

The first thing before anything else when it comes to cooking with kids is that you have to go in with the attitude that you're going to have fun.

If it's six forty five and your family is looking at you and wondering what to eat for dinner and you're thinking to have a little time with the kids in the kitchen, it’s probably not the best idea.

When you bring your kids into the kitchen especially until they are familiar and know what they're doing, it's most important for you to be relaxed and stress free and have no expectations.

Cooking With Kids Is Messy

Flour is going to get everywhere and egg is going to fall on the floor and break.

Just the other day we had a container of yogurt that dropped flat on the floor and my husband just walked in in his business suit and yogurt exploded like a volcano and onto a suit.

I can't describe it any better but of course he was not so thrilled.

You have to come in with an open mind and to have fun.

Cooking With Kids Is Educational

Remember that this is a family activity and a great way to learn new skills, values and information around nutrition, math, science and social studies without feeling like you're in a classroom.

There are ways to do that without pushing and without making it too stressful or making you feel like a chore for your child.

Cooking with kids should feel like something that's, fun and enjoyable.

Boy and girl siblings rolling dough in the kitchen #mealplanning #mealpreparation #healthymeals #foodpreparation #healthyfood #cookingwithkids #kidsinthekitchen

Cooking with Kids Is A Fun Bonding Time

On Saturday mornings my little girl Francis and I always make muffins. It’s a great one on one!

When you have multiple children, you can certainly bring them all in there to do different activities and recipes but we should have that one on one time with our kids to make it something special.

Go on Pinterest, go on my site, go on to all the other people that are participating in the summit and they all have great recipes for children.

Start Cooking Something Simple and Let Your Kids Choose

Let your children choose something that you can make together. It doesn't even have to be a fancy recipe.

It could be something as simple as scrambled eggs. Making scrambled eggs is a huge thing for kids. Cracking the eggs, whisking them, adding everything else and shredding in the cheese is fun for them.

Make cooking more about a life lesson and family time than it being a chore and something they have to learn when they're going to go to college!

Cooking with Kids By Age

What I want to talk about now is how to break it down by age and talk about different skills and different activities that they can do.

Also the different ways that you can interact with them and work in some of those lessons that they may have learned at school without overly pushing or making it feel like a classroom.

Cooking with Toddlers: 2 to 3 Year Olds

When you have a two or three year old, it’s the best time to really set that foundation and bring them in the kitchen.

Give them very small and simple tasks like measuring flour or cracking eggs with the expectation that it may or may not hit the bowl, that the yolk likely will break, that there will be shells everywhere.

It’s a time to build interest with your children and let them get used to trying new foods.

I have very selective eaters and I’ll never forget when Ellie was little, I asked her to help me just drain and rinse a can of beans in the colander. She stood on her little step stool and rinsed the beans with water and just ate a bean after bean and after bean.

Related: Help! My Toddler Won’t Eat

Get Your Picky Eater in the Kitchen

It’s a good chance for those parents with picky eaters too to see how they interact with different foods.

Introduce them to each individual ingredient.

Don't even worry about recipes. Just see how they interact with different ingredients by letting them wash the fruit or tear the lettuce.

Related:Stop Picky Eating with this One Simple Phrase

Cooking with Preschoolers: 4 to 5 Year Olds

This is a good age when you want to set a very small task.  You give them just that little bit of independence, but you give them a task.

So maybe it is something that would involve what they're learning in school like something that has to do with counting.

You let them wash the grapes, and then you ask them to pull ten grapes off the stem and put them into the bowl.

Preschoolers really likes a checklist. They like to be able to count things out, to be able to identify colours and that's probably even something you can do with your two year old and three year old too is work on identifying those colours.

Maybe you say, “Here's our bowl of dough that we made and let's roll it into balls.” You show them once or twice how to do it.

Of course you can participate too but let them really feel that pride in rolling.

This is the time that you're really establishing that confidence just to be able to come into the kitchen and not be afraid.

It's also really the time to set up some basic rules for the kitchen. We’ll talk about some other rules as children get older because we have to set more limits. But at this age, they only need to know the basic like not touching the stove.

Ellie right now she has not gone to kindergarten so she doesn't know how to read yet but she knows her letters so it's a great time to look at a package and let them help me identify seeing letters and numbers on the package.

This is also a great time to give them tasks that are based on their skill set like use the kitchen shears and to chop some herbs or lettuce or tear it by hand into individual bite size pieces.

You can get them involved with meal planning. You can say we are having chicken for dinner tonight but would be a really good green food to go with that.

Related: How to Deal With Challenging Behaviour at the Table

Kids Can Help Meal Plan

Meal planning and cooking with your kids really do go hand in hand I’m a big preacher of talking about how family meals matter.

Family meals doesn't mean that mom or dad's in the kitchen just sweating, trying to throw something together. It means that those times that the family can get involved so whether that's from the grocery shopping step or the meal planning step.

I’ll have the girls help me with their lunchboxes and it might just be letting Ellie use a little plastic knife and cut the greens off of the strawberries or even something fun like taking a straw and putting it into the end of the strawberry and popping that green part out.

We love doing little things like that. They love the kitchen hacks that are good for me but really kid appropriate as well.

Related: Pelvic Floor Exercises to Help Stress Incontinence After Pregnancy

Little boy helping his mom prepare salad #mealplanning #mealpreparation #healthymeals #foodpreparation #healthyfood #cookingwithkids #kidsinthekitchen

Cooking with 6, 7 and 8 Year Olds

This is when children are gaining more of that independence and you can give them step by step tasks.

With four and five year olds you're giving them small, achievable projects like counting something out, cutting something off or tearing something to go into the salad.

When they get a little bit older, the step by step activities are a great way to give them even more pride and confidence.

Example of this is letting them assemble a sandwich or assembling a salad. Of course you're going to be there with them and help them sort out the different ingredients that are going in. But you're giving them the ownership of that salad.

Things like fruit salad are always fun. Things that involve lots of different steps and lots of different ways that they can help you prepare the recipes.

Related: How to Stop Kids Preferring Snacks to Regular Meals

Talk to Your Kids About Food whilst Cooking

Plus it will give you a boatload of information to talk about when it comes to colours and nutrition and hydration on a very baseline level for this age still, but it gives you really good talking points and that lets you expand a little bit on food groups.

When you're in the kitchen with your children, of course it's a great time to just have a conversation and talk one on one.

Talk about what you're doing, don't just do it, talk about what you're doing, why you're doing it and that on top of improving communication skills really helps them absorb more knowledge about the food and become more comfortable with working with different types of foods.

Even if you're one of those parents that are like “I don't even know how to cut a cantaloupe.” Google a YouTube video together, watch it together and make that a project. It’s fun to go on and make it an activity where you find a recipe and just do it.

Related: Constipation and Natural Stool Softeners for Kids

Incorporate Fun Learning into Cooking

With these step by step tasks for the six to eight age, it's also a really great way to work in math and reading skills.

You don't want to make it something that brings on anxiety. My almost six year old isn't really reading yet, and I’m telling her, “Look at this recipe and tell me everywhere it says bake.” I don't want to give her extra stress if she doesn't know what that means. I can say “Here's bake, there’s a b. Do we see b anywhere else?”

We may have to step back a little bit. That’s a really big thing to know at this age if you're starting.

If you're thinking of getting your seven year old into the kitchen and she's never come in with you before or he's never even paid attention or cared. Then maybe you start off watching some fun videos where kids are in the kitchen. They’ll think “Hey, this is really fun and really cool.”

But be aware that you may have to take a few steps back.

You can't expect your seven year old who's never been in the kitchen to come in and do a small step by step recipe like assembling a sandwich or making a fruit salad if they never had those basic skills before.

Related: 10 Things Most Kids Don’t Know About their Mother

Two boys mixing a bowl of pasta in the kitchen #mealplanning #mealpreparation #healthymeals #foodpreparation #healthyfood #cookingwithkids #kidsinthekitchen

Cooking with 9, 10 and 11 Year Olds

When they get a little bit older and they're more into that nine, ten, eleven range, that's when their independence is really coming out. It’s a really good time to let them have their own recipe.

We’ve given the very small task for an ingredient and we've given the short step by step task for a recipe, then this is the time to really give them their own recipe. They can read a very basic recipe and follows some directions and just do it.

Lunchboxes are great way to let them work on mastering a recipe. When they're little, you can have them help fill it, you can have them help choose, but once they're a little bit older, it’s time to say, “Hey, we need a fruit, we need a vegetable, we need a protein, we need a dairy, what does that look like?”

While you’re giving them very baseline information about what the different foods do for your body. Why you need them and how to assemble what a plate should look like.

It’s all about teaching them how to prioritize the task when they're doing something that requires a step by step type of action.

Related: How Much Sugar is Recommended for Kids?

Teach Kids to Clean Up After Cooking

Then always following through with the cleanup at the end because wouldn’t it be nice if we could all snap our fingers and the magic cleanup fairy comes.

That’s part of being in the kitchen is well.

It’s a really fun and good time and age to start talking about fractions and decimals and science. Explaining prooving yeast or the cross between what energy is and how that helps to cook our food. Just working in some of those small lessons into the casual conversation.

Cooking with 12 Years and Older

Once they're twelve and older you can work in social studies from the standpoint of talking about different ethnicities and different countries and making it a priority to try their food.

Whether you go to a restaurant or you cook it in your own home, try different foods from different countries.

Maybe you go to the restaurant first then you come home and give it a rip and see what happens. It's probably easier for some of you to cook certain cuisines versus others. I probably do Italian and Mexican a lot better than I do Thai, Ethiopian and Korean but it's always fun to try.

Remember to Keep Cooking with Kids Fun!

Going all the way back to the beginning, no expectations when you're bringing them in. It's about experimenting and it's about having fun not when you're on that crazy timeline at the end of the day, just to get the family fed.

Give Kids Independence in the Kitchen

Give them independence in the kitchen and not hover. A lot of parents still have a lot of fun and bake together still making it that fun family activity but let's let them lead the way

If they've been doing it for a long time with you then they already know they're doing and they already have that confidence.

Set Ground Rules for Kids in the Kitchen

Something has to be said about making sure that your older children, whether it's junior high or high school age that they understand your rules for the kitchen.

Maybe you don't want them turning on the gas burner when you aren't home if you don't have confidence with them being on the stove unsupervised. Maybe you should let them stick to the toaster or the microwave.

It’s important as a parent at that age when they do have more of that confidence to set those ground rules.

This is a really also good time take what they are learning at school.

You give them a recipe and you have them double it or you half it or you give them receipt and you let them add it up and divide it by the number of people. You can talk about cost per serving and all of these different rules.

Teach Kids About Nutrition

You can also talk about nutrition, how and what they're eating and how does that affect the body.

If you’re only eating sugar and junk food and you are feeling sluggish and tired which are reactions that happens when you have a diet primarily in this food groups.

How does that compare to if you are drinking water throughout the day and having protein in the morning at breakfast or eating fruits and vegetables? And especially if you're an athlete or a gymnast or a dancer, how does that affect your performance versus the other?

That again is a great way to tie all that in.

You could do that by finding different recipes that give you those talking points to go along with.

Little girl helping her mom prepare a salad in the kitchen #mealplanning #mealpreparation #healthymeals #foodpreparation #healthyfood #cookingwithkids #kidsinthekitchen

Final Words about Cooking with Kids

I have set up a special blog post for this topic with some recipe ideas for the different ages.

If you go to you will be able to access what those recipes are.

I really hope that you guys have come up with some good ideas and are feeling encouraged to bring your children into the kitchen and just have some fun, try some new things and let their creativity run wild.

Healthy Eating for Kids Summit

This video was originally part of the Healthy Eating for Kids Summit. If you'd like lifetime access to all the videos in the summit, you can purchase access here.

Thank you Holly

Thank you Holly for helping us and inspiring us all to get into the kitchen and start cooking with our kids!


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