Getting Kids in the Kitchen – Tasks They Can Do by Age
Why It’s Important to Get Kids in the Kitchen
Kids are picky, or at least mine were – painfully so. It’s frustrating as a mom to actually branch out to something besides pizza/chicken nuggets/hot dogs and have your kids refuse to touch it at the dinner table. One thing that has really helped our family with these picky eaters is to get my kids more involved in the food process – everything from looking at Pinterest and cookbooks with me to pick out some meals for the week, to getting them in the kitchen to help create it. This creates an attachment between them and the food – it’s not just what mom put on the table, but what they helped create. Plus, I refuse to have my boys leave the house and know nothing about how to prepare their own meals and live on ramen for the first few years adult life!
Give Yourself Extra Prep Time
Keep in mind mom & dad – though this is a noble cause, it will still require you to put on your patience pants. Give yourself extra time before dinner needs to be on the table, as your kiddo(s) won’t be speedy and there might be spills and mishaps you want to have the state of mind to respond calmly to (remember – you want this to be a POSITIVE experience ; ). If I am on a tight schedule on a busy day, that’s the main instance where I might tell my kiddo “no” to helping in the kitchen so I can move quickly and not lose my temper when things go wrong.
What Does Kids in the Kitchen Look Like?
If you haven’t had your kids in the kitchen much, it can be hard to visualize what that looks like, especially if your kiddos are little. My kids have been helping me in the kitchen since toddler ages and I wanted to help give you ideas on what jobs they can be successful with. Obviously this will vary greatly, depending on the maturity of your child, which I tried to indicate in some places what that looks like in my family.
This may seem young, but this is the perfect time to capitalize on their eagerness to help and be involved and growing motor skills! Keep in mind, at these ages, their tasks should be things that don’t need precision. This includes tasks such as:
- Washing produce
- Dumping pre-measured (by you mom & dad) ingredients into the recipe bowl
- Stirring (I purposely use extra large bowls when kids are helping, so it’s harder for them to stir over the sides)
- Help count how many of an item you added (“Ok, we need 4 teaspoons, can you help me count those as we put them in?” Math at it’s best!)
- Put muffin liners into muffin tins
- Tearing lettuce
- Brush things on with a pastry brush
- Mash veggies
- Rolling cookie dough into a ball
- Placing things (like that cookie dough or the below chicken strips) on a pan
- Shake things to combine that are sealed (We do this a lot with coating things like my 5 Ingredient Whole30 Chicken Strips – put the dry ingredients in a ziplock, seal and then shake to mix. Then put in the cut chicken pieces, seal, and shake to mix. We also usually dance while we shake! ; )
I love cooking with these ages, as they are still young enough to be excited to spend time with you, but old enough for more challenging tasks, such as:
- Chopping off stems of strawberries or other softer fruits/veggies with a butter knife (my 6 year old’s current favorite! He especially loved making fruit kabobs with toothpicks or skewers. He’s so proud to put them on the table!)
- Set the table
- Crack eggs (just keep an eye out for the shells!)
- Read recipes and help get out ingredients (great for reading practice and working on sequencing!)
- Measure and pour
- Empty the dishwasher (my 6 year old actually can do this too and knows where things go better than my husband – ha!)
- Make their own school lunch (also one that my 6 year old has down!)
- Setting timer/oven
- Spray & wipe down counters
- Forming patties
This age there is SO much they can do. Though he’s worked up to it, my 10 year old can make an easy recipe like muffins while I am in the kitchen. My 12 year old can do so without any help at all. They also both can make their own scrambled eggs, quesadillas, sausage, etc. This age can do all of the above as well as:
- Make a simple batter like cookies or muffins
- Start learning how to load the dishwasher
- Make their own smoothies (this is one my 8 year old can do as well)
- Spraying with cooking spray
- Using various kitchen gadgets like the electric skillet, waffle iron, air fryer, standing mixer
- Teach them how to make grocery lists from recipes chosen
At this point, they have the motor skill and intelligence to generally do most cooking tasks. Growing up my mom gave each of us one night a week during the summer on which we were in charge of planning and cooking a family meal. She was around to help, but we were lead chef, which, looking back, was brilliant. It takes an initial investment, ongoing practice of your pre-teen cooking next to you to get there, but it’s so worth it! My 14 year old can make tacos from start to finish, our favorite Paleo Chick Fil A chicken, almost any muffin or cookie recipe…it’s incredibly helpful in our busy schedule or when I am out of town! (*Side note: he is also a boy scout and we have taught him kitchen and fire safety, as well as first aid and CPR).