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Tips for fun, safe cooking with kids

Kids love to imitate adults, so it’s not surprising that many children want to help parents cook dinner.

The kitchen is a great place to learn important life skills. Kids can start early in a supervised, safe environment, said Dr. Jeff Clark, a Marshfield Clinic Health System pediatrician.

Teach age-appropriate cooking skills

Toddlers aren’t too young to help. Choose utensils that are right for their size and strength.

“Learning to cook takes supervision, practice and patience,” Clark said.

Explain, demonstrate and guide as kids develop the cognitive and motor skills to complete tasks appropriate for their age group.

Under 3 years old

  • Stir or mash food with a spoon
  • Top food with sprinkles

3-5 years old

  • Wash fruits and veggies
  • Cut soft foods with a plastic knife
  • Tear lettuce for salads or bread for stuffing
  • Help dip and bread meat
  • Knead dough

5-7 years old

  • Start learning to hold food and sharp objects safely with supervision
  • Grate cheese
  • Use measuring cups and spoons
  • Mix and fold batter
  • Set the table

8-11 years old

  • Follow recipes
  • Plan meals
  • Safely use the stove or oven once they are tall enough, starting with foods cooked on low heat

Remember the importance of cleanliness when teaching children to cook. Kids should wash their hands before preparing food, wipe spills, learn to avoid cross contamination and help clean the kitchen after the meal is done.

Encourage participation, not perfection

“Part of teaching is accepting less than perfect results,” Clark said. “The child is doing his best and wants to learn to do better.”

Inspire confidence so kids feel encouraged to keep helping in the kitchen.

Make the kitchen safe for kids

Kids may find themselves in harm’s way if they have access to dangerous items. Part of kitchen safety includes explaining why kids shouldn’t use certain items without a parent, Clark said.

Click the targets on the image below for tips to make the kitchen a safe place for children.


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