Benefits of cooking with children
Cooking with children – from toddlers to teenagers – has a lot of benefits.
As well as being fun, cooking with your child:
- gives you the chance to introduce them to fresh, healthy foods and new foods
- helps them learn about how different foods look and where they come from
- helps them develop healthy eating habits, because they’re more likely to try food that they’ve helped to cook
- helps them learn about family traditions, recipes and foods
- prepares them for cooking for themselves or the family in later years
- helps build their maths skills – for example, when you count out teaspoons or measure liquid together
- helps build their vocabulary – for example, when you read a recipe together.
It’s also a great way to spend more time with your child and share the responsibility of cooking for your family.
Cooking with toddlers
Cooking with toddlers involves time and patience. So it’s a good idea to choose short and simple cooking tasks that match your child’s skills and attention span.
For example, your child could help out with:
- washing fruit and vegetables
- getting things from the fridge
- handing over utensils
- stirring ingredients or tossing salads.
Simple recipes like pita bread pizza, fruit salad and green salad are good because they’re simple to prepare, don’t take long to make, and involve plenty of interesting colours and textures.
When your child loses interest or gets tired of cooking, it’s a good idea to focus on praising and thanking them for helping, rather than expecting perfection.
Cooking with preschoolers
With preschoolers, you can talk about which foods are healthy and why, and where foods come from. You can also get preschoolers involved in shopping for healthy food, choosing healthy snacks and preparing simple foods.
This is 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 hummus
- fruit salad with yoghurt or fruit kebab sticks
- healthy savoury or sweet 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 with counting, peeling and chopping (depending on your child’s age) the vegetables you need for dinner
- mashed potatoes – let your child have a go with the masher, and mix the potatoes with yoghurt and herbs or another vegetable like carrots.
Cooking also helps preschoolers learn about washing vegetables and fruit, as well as some measuring and counting basics. They might learn some new words too, like ‘grate’, ‘mash’ and ‘delicious’!
Preschoolers are old enough to help with things like setting the table, serving food and cleaning up after meals.
Cooking with school-age children
School-age children often love to help in the kitchen and make menu suggestions.
This is a good age to involve your child in choosing fruit, vegetables, meat, beans and other foods for mealtimes. You can teach your child about which fruits and vegetables are in season.
At this age, your child can help to choose and pack their own healthy lunch box.
When you include your child in choosing and preparing food like this, they’re more likely to eat the food you’ve made together.
You and your child can now try more complex kitchen creations like:
- fried rice
- soup, casserole or stir fry
- gnocchi and pasta
- hamburgers or homemade pizzas
- different types of bread, including sandwich loaves, focaccia or roti
- homemade muesli
- pancakes or pikelets.
Your child can help do the dishes and clean the table now.
You’ll still need to help your child with any tasks that involve the oven, hotplates or hot liquids, and supervise carefully if they’re using sharp knives or other utensils.
Cooking with teenagers
Teenagers often enjoy being independent in the kitchen.
At this age, your child can test out some creative recipes and start learning about how to budget in the kitchen. For example, you could try asking your child to cook a meal using the leftovers in the fridge and pantry, or to plan a low-cost family meal.
Some recipes your child could try to cook include:
- crunchy chicken fingers
- tacos or burritos
- roast chicken, lamb, beef and vegetables, with a choice of spices
- soups – for example, pumpkin, minestrone, lentil or leek and potato
- fish, meat or vegetable curries and casseroles.
Note that younger teenagers still need supervision in the kitchen, especially around the oven, hotplates and other appliances.
Kitchens can be dangerous places for children 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. If you set some safety ground rules that are appropriate for your child’s skills and understanding, you help to make your kitchen safe.