May 19, 2021


Minute read

Cooking with Kids: How to Empower Your Children in the Kitchen at Any Age

Thinking back to childhood, can you recall some of your fondest food memories?

Maybe you have an early memory of fishing with your grandfather and cooking the catch of the day, or making holiday cookies with your cousins. You might remember being in kindergarten making macaroni necklaces, or learning the secrets to the perfect pie crust that your mother passed down to you. 

Humans have always congregated around food.

Throughout all societies, all generations, food is part of our biggest moments. We gather for huge, sumptuous meals on Thanksgiving, a barbecue on Independence Day, and share the triumphs and shortfalls of our day-to-day around the dinner table.

And throughout most of our history, children have been involved in these traditions.

While there are many enriching activities we can do with our children, cooking is one of the best. It’s fun, creative, educational, and a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Learning cooking skills develops language, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, math, and reasoning skills, and children who take part in cooking are 75% more likely to try and enjoy a wider variety of healthy foods.

Cooking is something you can do with a child of almost any age. Whether your child is two or 22, there are safe and appropriate ways you can incorporate their help into meal preparation.

Cooking with Kids Ages 2-3 

Most toddlers enjoy helping in the kitchen! They can be very tactile and love the idea of eating something THEY made. At this age, they will need close supervision with all tasks.

Some age-appropriate tasks to consider:

  • Washing produce in the sink
  • Picking herbs off stems and ripping them into pieces
  • Tearing up greens for a salad
  • Sprinkling dried herbs and spices
  • Stirring dry ingredients

Ages 4-5  

At this age, most children have developed more advanced motor skills and may wish to do tasks with more independence (use your best judgement here!).

Some age-appropriate tasks to consider:

  • Rolling out dough with a rolling pin
  • Breaking eggs
  • Grating vegetables or cheese
  • Cutting soft foods with a dull knife
  • Measuring and leveling dry ingredients
  • Spreading butter, nut butter or jam
  • Setting the kitchen timer
  • Setting the table
  • Rinsing dishes in the sink
  • Filling the dishwasher soap compartment and starting the dishwasher
Young girl with eggs over eyes. Cooking with your kids is fun for you and them!

Cooking with Kids Ages 6-10 

By this age, kids have generally mastered some basic cooking skills and are ready for more complicated tasks or multi-step tasks. In school, will be learning how to read, so reading recipes aloud is a wonderful way to support their reading skills! They may also be able to do basic math, including fractions, and can begin to take more ownership of the cooking process.

Some age-appropriate tasks to consider:

  • Using a can-opener or microplane (with supervision!)
  • Peeling fruits and vegetables
  • Greasing a baking pan
  • Scooping batter into a baking dish
  • Threading food onto skewers
  • Using a pairing knife (with supervision!)
  • Stirring food on the stove (with supervision!)
  • Making scrambled eggs (with supervision)
  • Pouring pasta into boiling water and stirring regularly
  • Putting groceries away
  • Loading and unloading the dishwasher
  • Clearing the dinner table

Ages 10+ 

At this age, your child can be fairly independent in the kitchen. Before allowing them total freedom, be sure that they have the chance to do more adult tasks with supervision and that they’ve mastered their skills. Only you can decide when your child has mastered each skill.

Some age-appropriate tasks to consider:

  • Following recipes using equipment such as the stove, oven, mixer, microwave or slow cooker
  • Using sharp knives to cut vegetables or fruit
  • Following complex recipe instructions
  • Cooking multiple components at one time

Consider allowing your pre-teen or teen to take one night each week to cook what they want for the family! They can build the menu, make sure the groceries are available, and showcase their amazing skills. Not only will you build their sense of accomplishment, but you’ll also have a night off from cooking.

It’s a family win-win! 

– – –

With children in the kitchen, there will be messy days, a lot of laughs, and probably the occasional boo-boo. Ultimately, it will all be worth it because cooking with your children creates memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. 

Image credits: Annie Spratt and Hannah Tasker.

About the Author: Erica Zellner, MS, CNS

Erica Zellner holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health from the Maryland University of Integrative Health and a post-graduate certificate in Global Health Management from The University of Maryland. Erica additionally holds the prestigious designation of Certified Nutrition Specialist through the American Nutrition Association. She is currently working with Parsley Health as a Senior Health Coach in Los Angeles. As an Integrative Clinical Nutritionist, Erica's focus is on wellness in every aspect of a person's life: mind, body, and spirit. Her goal is to empower individuals to take full control of each of these facets in healthful and fulfilling ways. Outside of the office, you can find Erica hiking with her puppies, weightlifting, or crafting a fine gin and tonic. Click here to visit her website.



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