Cooking With Kids

I think it’s  important to get kids involved in food prep as soon as they have the motor skills to do the simplest tasks. Sure, letting your 3 year old “help” make cookies slows you down, and it requires an extra bit of patience. The benefit, however, outweighs any frustration. I believe that when a kid cooks with their parents, they learn early on to be proactive about their nutrition, and it fosters a love (or at least like) of cooking, one of the most important life skills.

Here’s Oliver, my 3 yr old, helping me put the topping on our homemade chocolates. The ones he did weren’t as pretty as mine, but he got to help and be proud of his work.

5 yr old Max making himself a sandwich.

Here’s Max at age 6 (he’s 10 now) making his first meal from start to finish without my help. He chose the recipe from Kids a Cookin’. It’s the “Egg-Me-On Sunrise Sandwich.”

It was reeeeeally hard for me to relinquish control, and not constantly warn him to be careful, but I bit my tongue save to offer encouragement. He did great!

Let’s not forget an important part of cooking is the cleanup. Can’t you tell by his face that it’s his favorite part?

The end result was delicious, and he was so proud! He’s made many a meal since, but this will always be the most memorable.

Some tips for cooking with kids:

1. Start early. A 10 month old can put ice cubes in cups, squeeze ketchup from a bottle, or “help” you stir a bowl of batter. An 18 month old can help you set the table, dump ingredients into a pot, and sprinkle toppings over a salad. A 3 year old can help you roll cookie dough into balls, or put the “ants” on ants on a log.

When I did home daycare, I’d let the kids take turns helping me make drinks, and they got to load their own plates. See Freya in the middle, spreading applesauce on her tuna sandwich? She’s cooking!

2. Let them experiment. I will admit that I’m a bit of a control freak, and it can be hard for me to let a kid make mistakes, or figure it out for himself (especially in the kitchen), but I try to remind myself of how much can be learned by trial and error. Max once made his own recipe of smooshed strawberries, milk, nuts, crackers, vanilla, salt and pepper, and maybe onions? He baked it. And it was terrible. But, he learned a lot about how to combine ingredients that complement each other. Kids a Cookin’ is a great place for them to choose their own recipes.

Here’s a casserole he made a couple years later (at age 8), also from the same website.

3. Share your experiences. While it is important to let them figure things out for themselves, it’s just as important for you to pass down your knowledge. If you make a dish that fails, talk with them about where you went wrong.

About a year ago, he learned to make eggs, and now he’s the egg master. He makes them better than I do! And I LOVE it that I can ask him to make some eggs for his brother while I’m in the shower, and I don’t have to worry about it. It’s great!

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and expand their skill set. If you’re a fan of a good hollandaise sauce, and yours is perfected, why not teach it to a kid who is old enough to whisk and has the attention span to see the job through. You know better than anyone that something as complex as that requires practice to master. (I cannot make a proper hollandaise to save my life. I could use someone patient to teach me.)

I love to have the kids make their own snacks when they have friends over. I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t enjoy it. Here they are making peanut butter balls.

5. When appropriate, walk away. If your kid demonstrates the capability to make something on their own, give them a chance to truly do it on their own. My 10 yr old can make quite a few things, and he can follow directions, but I’m always right there with him. And I’m nearly incapable of not interfering. It’s hard for me. So recently, he wanted to make Chex “puppy chow”. I gave him the directions, and went and worked on the basement. He totally pulled it off. They turned out delicious, and we were both super proud!

If you try the Kids A Cookin’ website let me know. Also, I’d love for you to share some of your favorite recipes that you cook with your children.


4 thoughts on “Cooking With Kids

  1. My boys help me with the baking, but I must say my control freak takes over, and normally I’d need to set aside more time because they.. well.. get right in the way with real cooking. But I need to, so thanks for reminding me! Also.. I was sort of thinking Cooking With Kids.. maybe there was a good recipe. You know, ‘take one, medium sized child..’. Sorry. My sick mind there 😉

    • Haha! I had a college professor who used to say, “Don’t get me wrong. I like children… when properly prepared and served with a good wine.”

      I’m a bit of a control freak, too, so it’s hard for me, but totally worth it when I see those proud smiles.


  2. My girls like to cook with me. My 6yo makes the breadsticks when we make homemade pizza – it’s her special job and she’s quite proud. My 3yo loves to help with the little steps of any meal, like smearing mayo on the cracker sandwich or cutting the bananas for the fruit salad. If I’m getting impatient with the process, I usually just take an evening, after bedtime, and cook something on my own.

    The egg master looks quite serious about his craft!
    Synergistic Acres – Kansas City Natural Farm

    • Haha, he is quite serious, and he would appreciate you referring to him as the egg master. ;D

      I am not a very patient person, so it’s not easy for me to cook with the kids all the time. I don’t know what I’d do if they wanted to help me at every meal, or even every day. I’m not sure how I’d handle it. However, I do let them prepare their own breakfasts and lunches (well, more my 10 yr old than 3.5 yr old), serve themselves at dinner time, and I try to get them cooking somewhat regularly. We used to have Max choose and prepare (with help) the meal on Wednesdays, but since going gluten free a year ago, we’ve fallen out of that routine. I’m definitely inspired now to start it back up!


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