Texas Living

Kids in the Kitchen

By Haley Shapley 10.10.16

 Ever tried to get a kid excited about green beans? It’s a difficult task for sure. But an understanding of the good foods that fuel our bodies help little ones grow up strong and healthy. Want to instill an appreciation of nutritious food in your children? Get them into the kitchen to get cooking! 

When children get involved with preparing food, not only are they learning a valuable life skill (one many adults lack!), they’re also exercising creativity, practicing math, and finding out what a made-from-scratch nutritious meal looks like. There’s no doubt that enlisting them as your sous-chefs will make the process longer and messier, but the healthy habits you’ll be practicing are worth a cracked egg or spilled bag of flour here and there.

How They Can Help

What kind of tasks suit culinary superstars in training? It all depends on their age. Here are some ideas: 

Toddlers

  • Wash produce
  • Wipe countertops
  • Hand you ingredients
  • Tear lettuce
  • Knead dough
  • Stir batter 

Preschoolers

  • Roll out dough
  • Mash bananas with a fork
  • Peel oranges
  • Peel hard-boiled eggs
  • Squeeze citrus
  • Set the table

Kindergarteners

  • Measure ingredients
  • Beat eggs
  • Grease pans
  • Grate cheese
  • Form meat patties or cookie dough
  • Put groceries away

Older kids can take on some of the same tasks that you do, depending on their skill-level, maturity, and awareness. But be sure to exercise judgement here to keep them safe. Even if they’re not ready to put things in the oven or use a knife, there’s plenty they can help with, from scooping batter into cups to storing leftovers. Always make sure you supervise, particularly when they’re learning a new skill.

A Recipe for Success

When it comes to cooking with kids, a great place to start is well before you begin chopping and measuring — back when planning meals and buying ingredients at a grocery store or farmers market. Talk about the foods you’re planning to cook and the ingredients you’re picking up.

Once you have everything ready and you’ve identified a few age-appropriate ways for your kids to assist, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and hit the kitchen. While you’ll want to stay vigilant when you supervise them to prevent accidents, try not to show any nervousness about any possible danger. Children can sense your anxiety, so keep it fun and light, even if they make mistakes (and they will). Narrate what everyone is doing as you go along so they understand the process. Let them ask questions, and explain why you’re doing things a certain way. As kids get older, they’ll start to grasp more of the science and process behind your answers.

Letting kids create snacks all on their own can be an empowering experience. For the smallest ones, the old classic of ants on a log (celery sticks covered in peanut butter and topped with raisins) is a fun one, and pinwheel sandwiches are a great go-to. Older kids might surprise themselves with the yummy things they can make, like an oatmeal cookie smoothie, whole-wheat pizza pockets, and strawberry-chocolate chip muffins. Experimenting is half the fun, so if their creations don’t come out right on the first try — or they think there’s a way they can make them better — encourage them to try again. With any luck, they’ll be the ones cooking for you one day.