When is a good age to starting cooking tasks with kids?
The quick answer to this question is… kids are never too young to learn to cooking tasks in the kitchen!
Babies in a pouch can enjoy watching and taste-testing with you. As soon as kids can stand steadily and hold things there are bits they can do to help out, and they are never too young to enjoy cooking with mum or dad.
Anytime is a good age to start – so why don’t you start now?
Why should you start cooking with your kids?
The benefits of cooking with your children, for both them and you, are quite remarkable and extend to many parts of their development and their lives.
- They love spending time with you and copying what you do
- This provides an opportunity for you to hang out and just talk
- It brings in practical uses of things some kids find difficult, such as maths and science
- It is wonderful for children with learning or other disabilities
- It teaches planning and preparation, sequences, problem-solving, practice and perseverance and so much more
- It teaches general motor skills, safety skills, communication and social interaction
- It offers a healthier relationship with food, in that children who learn to cook tend to be better eaters
- They learn to clean up after themselves
- They learn to help out around the home and can take on the task of cooking for you once old enough
- It would be nice to send them out into the world as grown-ups with some basic cooking skills one day!
Whether children are old enough to learn how to cook depends on a few factors. The first thing you have to remember is safety (and hygiene).
Don’t give your children tasks that they are not old enough to handle such as cutting with sharp knives or using the stove.
Don’t let your children handle food that is unsafe like raw meat and then salad items or eating or serving to others food off the floor.
Teach washing hands with soap and water before, during and after cooking steps.
Letting go of your parental controls – now this is a big one!
Some of us parents are reluctant to let our kids help cook because it means letting go a bit of our own control.
It does make the task slower and messier in the short-term and can require patience.
If you are in a rush to get dinner on the table for the family…I’d say now is probably not the greatest time to teach your three-year-old how to saute onions!
Admittedly it is easier, neater and quicker to cook without your children helping. So, we don’t recommend teaching them in a rush.
Choose a time when you have all the time in the world and make the lesson fun and don’t worry about what you end up making.
Take a deep breath and prepare for things to get MESSY.
There will be flour, margarine or tomato sauce everywhere.
There will be fingers in all the dishes and then the mouths and then on cupboards or walls.
Any baking or decorating will end up looking terrible and there will be eggshell or bits of peel in everything you make.
Professional chefs would be mortified by the state of your work space and your plating up results, but that’s not really the point is it?
Your child will pick up skills very quickly and before long they will be a helping hand when you are making dinner and won’t slow things down at all.
Age appropriate kids cooking ideas
- Teach hand washing and wearing an apron
- Kids this age are great with baking; adding ingredients to a mix, kneading or rolling dough, using cookie cutters, putting out cupcake pans, painting egg-wash on pastry or decorating biscuits or cakes
- They love to get ingredients from the fridge and pantry for you
- They are also wonderful at washing food like fruit and vegetables
- Topping pizzas and sandwiches, adding ingredients to salads
- Adding things like herbs and spices and condiments
- Crumbing schnitzels or vegetables for tempura
- Being guinea-pigs and taste-testers and licking bowls and beaters
- Kids can also help wash dishes and wipe down the benches
- Around this age you can start to add some safety elements such as basic knife use. Using a butter knife, kids can help with cutting softer things like mushrooms, beans, strawberries, lettuce, cheese, ham etc.
- They can start cracking and even separating eggs
- They can start measuring items for baking and following your own basic instructions to combine ingredients themselves
- Making their own breakfasts such as cereal, porridge and toast
- Peeling fruit and vegetables
- Starting to follow basic recipes such as pikelets or scrambled eggs
- You can up the safety factor again around this time and add sharper knives and introduce them to using the stove.
- You can teach your child to light the stove, turn on the oven etc. and start getting them used to the idea of monitoring cooking without leaving it unattended
- Kids cooking ideas at this stage include letting them stir things on the stove or flip pancakes etc.
- They can follow their own written recipes with minimal supervision
- Let them take an active interest in choosing what recipe you will cook or what new ingredient you will learn how to use
- Cutting harder things like root vegetables
- Handling raw meat and learning more about food safety
- By now children can start to become unsupervised and can make dinner on their own.
- You can add more dangerous tasks like putting things in and out of the oven, draining pasta, using blenders or electric mixers etc.
It will vary depending on the interest and skill of your own child, and the time you can take to teach them, but there is really no age where children can’t start to learn cooking with you.
If you are willing to accept some mess and the results of some awful cooking experiments, then your children are ready and able to start to learn.
And it will be worth every minute you spend teaching them, trust me!
Nicole is a mum of two girls aged 5 and 3, made to order cook, cleaner, crafts organiser and family budget manager. In between cups of coffee, you will usually find her assisting a toddler with the toilet, cleaning food scraps off the floor and basically trying to keep her mini-me’s alive. She knows all too well that if you don’t keep them busy they will find their own busy-ness, by doing something mischievous!
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