In most households, the kitchen is where the action is. Cooking with kids and sharing your kitchen with them encourages their interest in cooking and food. It’s also a fun way to encourage healthy eating habits and skills for life.
Benefits of cooking with kids
Cooking with kids gives you the chance to introduce them to fresh, healthy food and interesting ways of cooking it. It can be lots of fun, and it’s also a way of spending more time with your children.
There are also all sorts of things your child can learn while helping you to cook, including:
- what different foods look and feel like
- where foods come from
- how to get food ready for cooking – for example, washing and peeling vegies
- what new words mean – for example, whisk, peel, egg beater, grater
- how to understand measuring and maths concepts – for example, half, one teaspoon, 30 minutes
- how to follow instructions in a recipe and do things step by step
- how to wait patiently for that cake to rise!
Cooking with toddlers
Almost everything that involves a toddler involves time and patience. So it’s a good idea to choose short and simple cooking tasks that match your toddler’s skills and attention span.
For example, your toddler could help out with:
- washing fruit and vegies
- getting things from the fridge
- handing over utensils
- stirring cake mixes or tossing salads.
Simple recipes such as pita bread pizza, fruit salad and green salad are good because they’re simple to prepare, don’t take long to make and involve lots of interesting colours and textures.
When your toddler loses interest or gets tired of cooking, it’s a good idea to focus on thanking your toddler for helping and praising his effort, rather than expecting perfection.
Cooking with preschoolers
With preschoolers, you can talk about which foods are healthy and why.
This is also a good age to introduce recipes that involve ‘building’. This could include layering toppings on a sandwich for lunch or spooning yoghurt, cereal and fruit into a glass to make a tasty and healthy dessert.
You could try making some of the following:
- homemade dips like tzatziki or hommus
- fruit salad with yoghurt
- healthy muffins – let your child add raisins, chopped fruit, mashed banana, cooked pumpkin or grated carrot and mix it all together
- roasted vegetables – let your child help out with counting, peeling and chopping (depending on your child’s age) the vegies you need for dinner
- mashed potatoes – let your child have a go with the masher, and jazz up the spuds with yoghurt and herbs or another vegetable such as sweet potato.
Cooking also helps preschoolers learn about washing vegetables and fruit, as well as some measuring and counting basics and some new words.
And preschoolers are old enough to help with things like setting the table, serving food and cleaning up after meals.
Video Cooking together – tzatziki
Cooking together is a fun way to learn about healthy food and help child development. This family makes tzatziki. Mum guides her kids in reading a recipe, using cutlery, counting and measuring. There’s hands-on action as they stir, peel, scrape – and eat the yummy dip!
Cooking with school-age children
Your school-age child will probably love helping in the kitchen and making menu suggestions.
This is also a good age to involve your child in choosing fruit, vegies and other foods for mealtimes. You can teach your child about which fruits and vegies are in season.
At this age, your child can also help to choose and pack her own healthy lunch box.
When you include your child in choosing and preparing food like this, he’s more likely to eat the food you’ve made together.
You can now try more complex kitchen creations, such as:
- vegetable or chicken stir-fry
- gnocchi and pasta – with or without a pasta machine
- homemade muesli with nuts and seeds
- pancakes or pikelets.
Your child can help do the dishes and clean the table now.
Video Cooking together – children making pancakes
The kids in this video learn a lot as they cook together. One reads the recipe while the others measure and calculate ingredients. Cooking a simple recipe lets kids work together to make decisions about food and gives them confidence as they experience kitchen success.
Kitchens can be dangerous places for kids of all ages. Knives, electrical appliances and hot stoves are all hazards. So too is carrying a pot of hot water to the sink when there’s a small person nearby. Some safety ground rules that are appropriate for your child’s skills and understanding will help to make your kitchen safe.