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How to get your kids cooking (and when)

No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.

 Julia Child |

Cooking is a great activity to do as a family, and by introducing your children to cuisine when they’re young, you’re giving them a crucial life skill that also provides lots of enjoyment.

So, when and how should you introduce your kids to cooking? 

Children are individuals, and so some will take to cooking more than others. Safety is a concern depending on their age and abilities, but above all, cooking is a beautiful way for them to spend quality time with you. For that reason alone, it’s worth introducing children to cooking as early as you can.

Just remember that what they produce doesn’t have to be perfect and that making mistakes is part of the fun. Being OK with making mistakes is a wonderful lesson in itself – and it’s even more powerful when it comes from you.

Now that we’ve covered the when – as early as possible – let’s look in detail at the how. We’ll do that by age group.

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For children under 3

As soon as your child shows they want to help you in the kitchen, encourage them to participate. Set them up at their own ‘station’, e.g., the kitchen table or even their high chair. You want to make sure they can’t reach anything hot or tip anything over on the stove.

Here are some tasks under 3s love to do:

  • Pouring ingredients into bowls – open packets for them and let them pour.
  • Mixing ingredients – give them a wooden spoon or spatula and let them mix. Make sure the mixture is not warmer than room temperature.
  • Squeezing lemons or oranges – give them a plastic squeezer and a pre-cut lemon or orange. Even if you get less juice than you usually would, the pleasure it gives them is worth it!
  • Preparing vegetables – give them a bowl of water and some vegetables to wash. This is an opportunity for them to practice naming vegetables, and hopefully developing more of an interest in eating them!
  • Mashing ingredients – give them a fork for mashing bananas, a masher for mashing potatoes, etc.
  • Decorating – children love sprinkling coconut, candies, and other decorations on top of cakes and cookies.
  • Washing up – give them a bowl of soapy water, a sponge, and some utensils (nothing sharp). Children love washing, and this can keep them entertained for quite a long time! Just have towels handy 🙂

For children 3 to 5 years old

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Children this age will want to be more involved with what you’re doing. They will know if you’re trying to keep them busy, and their increased dexterity means you can give them more challenging things to do.

In addition to any of the above activities that they may still enjoy doing, here are some new ones:

  • Measuring and weighing ingredients. Let them use the scales and get them to tell you what they’re doing. It’s never too early to reinforce math skills!
  • Cutting soft foods. Make sure you have a suitable knife – there are child-proof knives you can use that ensure your child can’t cut a finger, so they’re worth the small investment. Have your child chop soft foods like pears, strawberries, bananas, and cooked veggies (if they’re not too hot).
  • Rolling, shaping, and cutting dough. Get your child some plastic cookie cutters and let them use your rolling pin, or if they prefer smaller, get a child-sized rolling pin.

For children 5 to 7 years old

In addition to the above activities, once children are 5 and up they can do more complex tasks such as:

  • Folding egg whites into a batter. This is a learning process. Just remember that if the result isn’t perfect, it will still taste great, and your child will feel accomplished!
  • Cutting harder foods such as raw vegetables for a stew. Make sure they’re using a child-proof knife. They can pour ingredients into a large pot as they go, like an Uno Casa Dutch oven that’s heavy enough that it won’t wobble on the table.
  • Beating batter with a whisk. Make sure the batter isn’t too hot, and that you use a sturdy bowl.
  • Reading a recipe. If your child is reading, encourage them to read as much of the recipe as they can. There are some simple recipes out there that you can collate.

For children 8 years old and up

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Once children are 8, they can start with more complex activities:

  • Planning a meal.
  • Following whole recipes on their own.
  • Stirring ingredients on the stove (be careful with heat sources, and make sure they feel ready).
  • Opening cans.
  • Peeling vegetables (make sure they peel away from their body).

Enjoy cooking with your kids – and building a great habit for life!

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