10 ways to create a little chef in your kitchen

My kids started cooking in the kitchen at a young age. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, playing, eating and sometimes even having baths in the sink. On weekends, we cooked as a family, especially breakfast. It has always been important to me that my kids know how to cook. I am thankful they had early experiences because as teens now, it’s almost impossible to get them to spend time in the kitchen!

Did you know that 28 percent of adults don’t know how to cook? And only 42 percent of parents teach their child how to cook? From many years of working with families, I know a big barrier to healthy eating is in not knowing how to cook (or not feeling comfortable or confident with cooking). Setting a foundation of comfort, cooking skills, and knowledge in the kitchen is one area where all parents can help their child be a healthy eater.

What young kids get out of cooking (and why they are perfect for it)

Young children and those who are school-agers are perfect candidates for cooking. Their interest is present, and they are at a ripe age for learning. Here are a handful of benefits that may occur when you let your child loose in the kitchen (with supervision, of course):

1. A real life science experiment. Kids get to see the transformation of ingredients right before their eyes. From batter to cake and ground beef to a burger, many kids are fascinated by the science of cooking.

2. Hands-on learning at its best. Piaget, the well-known child psychologist, believed that when children are given the opportunity to dig in and “do,” they learn and remember new concepts and skills better.

3. Builds self-esteem. When children learn a new task and succeed, such as how to bake cookies, their self-esteem builds. Cooking is a great way to let children experience success at their own hands.

4. Immediate feedback. Cooking allows children the opportunity to see success and failure, figure out their mistakes, and correct them.

5. Skill builder. Learning to cook develops on a continuum, building skill upon skill and allowing for new skills once old skills have been mastered.

6. Food exposure. When children are exposed to a variety of food—they see, smell, touch, and taste it—they become more comfortable with it and are more likely to choose and want to eat it.

10 ways to get your kids involved in cooking

Nearly all children can get busy in the kitchen. From simple tasks to complex ones as your child ages and gains more skill, here is a sampling of what your child can do in the kitchen:

2-3 year-olds:

1. Washing. Tables and countertops; fruit and veggies; plastic or unbreakable dishes.

*Tip: Allow plastic bowls, plates, cups and measuring cups, and spoons into the bathtub, where washing and pouring begins!

2. Simple Prep. Tearing lettuce leaves, breaking apart broccoli or cauliflower crowns, tearing away grapes from the stem, and snapping green beans and peas.

3-4 year-olds:

3. Pouring. Start with water and have young children practice in the sink or at the counter in the kitchen. Pour measured wet ingredients into pancake batter and other baked goods.

*Note: Most young children are already practicing their pouring skills in preschool!

4. Stirring. Allow kids to use a wooden or plastic spoon to stir batter and mix ingredients together.

5. Hand-Mixing. With clean hands, allow children to hand-mix cookie and bread dough.

6. Peeling. Let your child peel hard-boiled eggs, fruit like clementine or banana, and shuck corn.

7. Rolling. Start with little hands to roll meatballs or cookie dough, and advance to a rolling pin.

4-5 year olds

8. Juicing. Let your child hand-squeeze juice out of citrus fruit, and advance to using a manual juicer.

9. Measuring. Teach your child to fill measuring spoons and cups, and level them with a knife.

10. Cutting. Start with a plastic knife and soft foods like cheese, eggs, and bread, and advance to a butter knife, regular knife, and sharp knife as your child gets older and more skillful.

What does your child do in the kitchen?

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About Jill Castle, Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She is co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.


  1. Great tips! I love cooking with my 4 year old. They can do so much more than we give them credit for!

  2. Love this! I cook with my five-year-old several times a week and really enjoy the experience.


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