Expert Health Articles

Food Preparation and Cooking with Children

During these unprecedented times, we have found our regular day-to-day routines flipped. Some of us have found ourselves staying home with our children, taking on the role of supervising their education. Thankfully, teachers are continuing lessons virtually. As parents and caregivers, we can take advantage of this time to provide valuable lessons through our daily food preparation and cooking. Bringing your children into the kitchen will provide valuable lessons about food and help practice reading, math, science and motor skills.

When bringing your children into the kitchen, safety is the main concern, but expect to have messes and mix-ups throughout the process. Be prepared to slow down and show how to do tasks multiple times. This process is about introducing new skills, not perfecting chopped vegetables or perfectly cracked eggs. You’ll find this may teach you a thing or two about patience too! Children will vary in their ability to undertake different activities, so use your judgment to choose tasks you think are suitable for your child.  

For all ages, start with a basic lesson on the importance of food safety by emphasizing the importance of washing your hands before starting food preparation. Appropriate tasks for age groups vary. Children who have already been introduced to tasks at a younger age may be able to take on more advanced tasks. The following ideas are age-appropriate tasks for food preparation, knife skills and cooking. Remember, use your judgment on what is appropriate based on your child’s previous experiences.

  • 2-5 years old: Mix ingredients, tear lettuce, press cookie cutters, scoop seeds, place chopped foods into bowls and wash produce
  • 6-7 years old: Begin teaching knife skills using a plastic knife on soft foods such as strawberries or cucumbers, peel raw produce like oranges, crack eggs and measure ingredients
  • 8-9 years old: Introduce sharp knife skills, juice citrus fruits, use a food thermometer, beat eggs, clean dishes, use a can opener and peeler and microwave foods
  • 10+ years old: Slice or chop vegetables and meat, use the oven and stove-top, introduce multi-step recipes and plan out a meal

Finding yourself stumped on what to have your child prepare? Try these kid-friendly recipes that use minimal ingredients for a tasty and easy meal starter or snack:

  • English Muffin Pizzas: Top an English muffin with tomato sauce, cheese and chopped vegetables. Broil in an oven or toaster oven.
  • Smoothies: Toss fruit, Greek yogurt and a liquid such as milk or water into a blender. Extra ingredients such as seeds, oats or vegetables are a bonus. Have your child measure out ingredients, place into a blender and then blend.
  • Peanut butter toast: Teach how to toast bread then spread peanut butter and top with a sliced banana.

Practicing and learning food safety and preparation are vital skills that children will need as they move into adulthood. As uneasy as this time can be, try to take advantage of being home to spend time in the kitchen together. This time together not only allows for teachable moments but will create memories and nurture relationships. 

Rachel Niermann, RDN, Licensed Dietician

Armes Family Cancer Care Center