These days, I’m one of those parents who loves hearing, “Can I help with the cooking, Mum?”
But it wasn’t always this way, and I still have to silence that part of me that groans that having them involved will delay me from my 1000 other parental tasks. And let’s not even talk about the mess! But, as teens who were embraced in the kitchen from 2yrs of age, my children are now a genuine help to me in the kitchen whether as dutiful assistants or in complete charge of producing a meal for themselves or the whole family.
Teaching children the essential life skill of cooking, means they can take control of their health and be well throughout their life. The best part - cooking is fun and they don’t even realise they are increasing their knowledge of nutrition, as well as improving their academic and life skills!
Having little ones in the kitchen is beneficial in many ways;
- Learn: Learning how to cook is an important life skill. Not only that, but cooking provides a great opportunity to teach our kids about nutrition – what’s healthy, why it’s healthy and why that’s good. In addition, it teaches safety habits (sharp objects, fire, gas etc.)
- Read: Reading recipes and flicking through recipe books encourages children to read and follow instruction (later, they will learn ‘improvisation’ and ‘multi tasking’)
- Maths: The recipes also use maths concepts (measurement, fractions and proportions), which helps to improve their numerical skills by practical application
- Bonding: It provides important bonding time which not only creates precious memories, but helps to build their confidence. It also presents opportunities to praise your child as they complete a task, contributing to their self-esteem
- Explore: They are introduced to new foods, which they are more likely to try given they are preparing them
- Motor Skills: Fine motor skills are honed in the kitchen, as are their five senses: see, hear, smell, touch, taste (thanks XTC! Showing my age.)
- Creativity: Children have an opportunity to express their creativity – e.g. using cookie cutters to make different pizza or sandwich shapes, collaborating on a new healthy cake recipe and decorating it, deciding on the design and ingredients for a fruit kebab, choosing ingredients they like to include in their smoothie and so on…
- Combat fussy eating: Children are more likely to try new foods if they are exposed to varied types of foods when they help out in the kitchen.
Children develop at different rates and so their kitchen abilities will vary. Use your own judgment when exploring the tasks you think are suitable for your child.
Here are some ideas of some age appropriate kitchen tasks that you could try at home with your little one:
Cooking activities for a 2-3 year old
This age is more about familiarising children with the kitchen environment. Be sure to make the area completely safe before getting them involved.
- Washing fruit and vegetables – set them up at the sink with a step ladder, fill the sink with water, and set them to task with washing with a strainer beside them. This is a great way to get them curious about an array of colourful fruit and vegetables which encourages them to try different foods
- Measure out ingredients and have your children add them to a bowl and stir them
- Mashing food like cooked potato, sweet potato or banana with a potato masher, just make sure the ingredients aren’t too hot
- Sprinkling flour onto a surface to make bread, or seeds onto some pastry
- Kneading dough
- Spinning salad
- Squeeze citrus fruits
- Assemble pizza toppings
Remember, they don’t have to do all these things on their own, you can help them with any, or all of the above steps.
Cooking activities for a 3-5 year old
By 3-5 years, motor skills and focus have improved, so now they can attempt more complex activities.
- Measuring ingredients with measuring cups and spoons
- Cutting soft foods like butter, bananas, mushrooms, and cheese with a dull knife
- Peeling eggshells from hardboiled eggs
- Assembling foods like a parfait
- Cracking and beating eggs
- Make a simple sandwich
- Greasing pans
- Rolling, shaping and cutting dough – use plastic cutters and a small rolling pin
- Spreading - buttering bread and spreading icing
- Picking leaves off herb stems and hulling strawberries
Here are some simple and delicious healthy recipe ideas to make with your little ones under 5:
Dips like guacamole and hummus
San Choy Bow
Why not choose a recipe with your little ones and let the kids into the kitchen this Easter long weekend? I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be!
Brenda Janschek is a health coach, nutrition and lifestyle blogger, recipe creator, passionate advocate for women’s and children’s health and a busy mum of two!nThrough her writing, coaching, nutrition presentations, popular online programs and recipe eBooks, she helps busy mums develop and implement healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits that can be easily shared with their families and friends.