I have been cooking my whole life. It is really the only thing I know how to do well and that’s because my parents started me at such a young age. They didn’t really have a choice. From the time I was a toddler, I was trying to get in the kitchen and closer to all the food, always asking “me some more” whenever I wanted what my parents were making in the kitchen.
My favorite memory from cooking as a child was getting the extra pie dough and getting to make my own little hand pies. My parents would make pies for dessert or even Tofu Pot Pie for dinner (my parents were hippies and way ahead of their time on the tofu craze) and they would give me the extra dough to make a creation with. I would go crazy raiding the fridge and spice cabinet for ingredients to try. I got to chop everything up myself, mix in the spices, roll the dough out, fill the pie and form the hand pie or tart. When it came to the oven I usually got some help from my parents. Sometimes the pies were great and sometimes not so good but either way it got me confidence in the kitchen.
If you teach kids good kitchen habits from the beginning, by the time they are pre-teen they will be able to make dinner from scratch and clean up by themselves. Teaching skills is important, but letting them have fun and be creative is what will get them excited about helping out in the kitchen.
Learning these skills is all about what you feel comfortable with your child’s ability level. The ages are just suggestions; introduce new skills as you feel fit.
At this young of an age, tasks depend on ability child to child. It’s a good time to just start by getting your kids comfortable with simple kitchen tasks. Making cookies is a great first project plus they are guaranteed to be excited about the outcome: pouring pre-measured goods into the bowl, sifting, mixing, rolling cookies and most importantly taste testing.
Teach them to always clean up their workspace when they are done. You may need to clean it better once they are done but teaching them this habit now will instill good habits in their kitchen adventures. Even get their help “washing” the dishes.
Simple tasks not using knifes or stovetops to try including:
- Washing vegetables
- Stirring batter
- Rinsing and draining ingredients
- Assembling sandwiches.
This is a great age to start letting kids choose what to put into the meals you make together. It gets them interested in all the different kinds of foods there are to experiment (play) with. Get them to smell or taste ingredients before they choose whether to add them or not. At first they may need a little leading but they’ll catch on fast. Let them be as creative as they want. The worst that can happen is you’ll have to eat a failed creation for dinner, but that happens to the best of us.
Other skills to try include:
- Measuring ingredients
- Kneading dough
- Using cookie cutters.
Don’t forget every time you cook together to get your child to help clean up.
Introduce knife skills.
- Start by teaching your child that knives are not a toy and that they should only be used under supervision (until you are comfortable enough with them using them on their own).
- Teach them how to walk safely with a knife and how to hold a knife while cutting.
- Teach them the claw hand position for holding what they are cutting to protect their little fingers.
- Always give your child a sharp knife. I know it seems scary but if they do end up cutting themselves a wound from a sharp knife will heal faster and cleaner. Plus a dull knife is more likely to cause an accident in the first place due to the extra pressure needed to cut. To start them off cutting on their own, I would suggest giving them a paring knife or small chef’s knife. Watch over their shoulder and remind them to claw their other hand.
Always closely supervise this skill.
Other skills to try include:
- Using a handheld mixer
- Opening cans
This is the time that all the skills you taught before start to come together. At this age get your kids involved in menu planning, reading recipes and adjusting recipes. You may feel comfortable allowing your kids to assist at the stovetop now with supervision. All cooking skills can at least be attempted at this age with supervision.
Ages 12 and up
This is the age where all skills your child has learn will star to be honed. Let them take charge of making meals and trying new skills, recipes, experiments.
Learning how to follow a recipe properly is key. My Dad use to always tell me “You have to learn the rules before you can break them” which was very frustrating to me when all I wanted to do is experiment. Learning how to follow a recipe will teach them the base knowledge they need for when they start being creative and experimenting. Remember not all recipes can so easily be adjusted. For example, swapping ingridients in baking recipes can turn into flat inedible muffins or rock hard cake. Teach what part of recipes to be creative with and to leave base recipes alone. For example, swap the nuts or berries in a muffin recipe with other nuts and fruit but don’t swap out the trusty all-purpose flour with almond flour.