An Age-by-Age Guide to Getting Your Kids to Help in the Kitchen
Most of us have become accustomed to having our kids around all of the time over the past few months. Which means little ones in the kitchen wanting to help with meal prep all of the time! Can you relate? We parents, are feeling exhausted, short on patience and quite honestly, a little overwhelmed trying to balance everything from parenting to meal prep to work to homeschool. Sometimes it’s just easier to send the kiddos out of the kitchen or turn on a show so that you can prepare your meal in peace. I get it! It also requires more time, some serious patience (especially if you’re A-type like me), and a little more clean-up.
BUT, the pay-off is well worth it, I promise!
You can include your kids at any stage—menu planning, grocery shopping, preparing and cooking the meal (or baking). You can also have them set the table, clear plates and help with clean up too. Getting children involved in the kitchen will boost the likelihood that they will eat more and be more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. The earlier you start including your kids (even when they are young toddlers!), the quicker they will build confidence and skills in the kitchen (and the quicker their “help” actually becomes … helpful).
When kids, no matter what age, have had a hand in preparing a meal, they are more likely to sit down for family meals (which in and of itself has many benefits) and actually eat the foods that they have helped prepare. Not only that, but having your kids help prepare meals and snacks can help decrease picky eating habits, boost self-esteem and helps them to create life-long cooking and food prep skills.
Here are a few tips for success:
Practice food safety:
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt (or sick). Make sure that when you’re involving your kids in meal prep, you’re using your best judgement in terms of tasks (think sharp knives, electrical appliances and hot stoves), and supervising your little ones at all times. Make sure to practice food safety - especially when it comes to hand washing and handling raw meat - protect your kids from heat and boiling liquids, and be extra careful when handling sharp knives and utensils. Make sure that any choking hazards are out of reach if your young toddlers are helping too.
Choose simple, go-to dishes or baked goods:
This one is important. Don’t make it complicated! The fewer ingredients, steps and utensils/dishes that you need to use, the better. There’s nothing worse than realizing mid-prep that the recipe you chose is too time-consuming, too complicated or that you don’t have all the ingredients on hand (and this is at the best of times). That’s a recipe for frustration, impatience and cranky kids. It’s important to choose simple, nutritious, family-friendly recipes that don’t require too much planning, prep or fuss. Some of my favourite things to get my kids help with are baked goods, easy nutritious snacks like popsicles or smoothies, easy build-your-own meals or snacks (like yogurt parfaits), or one-dish recipes that don’t require much prep. One ingredient that I seem to use A LOT in simple recipes are Baby Gourmet’s fruit and veggie pouches (and kids LOVE squeezing them). They’re more versatile that you think. Baby Gourmet has many simple and delicious recipes that you can check out.
What I love about my go-to recipes is that it makes the meal prep process easy and fun, so that I can focus on my kids, and not stress about it (and get frustrated with my kids in the process).
Have a list of age-appropriate tasks that your kids can do:
You want to keep your kids busy with fun tasks that make them feel like they’re truly helping. This is what builds confidence. To minimize boredom and keep things positive, have a list of age-appropriate, safe tasks for your kids.
- wash fruits and veggies
- peel stickers off fruits and veggies
- press the “on” button on the food processor, rice cooker or blender
- squeeze a Baby Gourmet fruit and veg puree pouch into a blender or mixing bowl
- dump ingredients into a bowl
- whisk/mix ingredients
- put muffin cups into muffin tins
- tear leafy greens
- hand you utensils such as a wooden spoon
- add toppings to salads, oatmeal, pasta etc.
- wipe tabletops
- put placemats on the table
- everything above
- pick fruits and veggies from garden, and then rinse them
- spread peanut butter on toast and add toppings
- crack eggs
- help to menu planning
- set the table, serve and clear
- remove eggshells from hard-boiled eggs
- pour from a small pitcher or measuring cup
- husk corn
- make a sandwich or pizza with pre-assembled ingredients
- cut spaghetti or linguini with a plastic knife or kid’s scissors
- mash fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots or bananas
- peel oranges
- assemble a colourful fruit salad (with fruit that is bite-sized or pre-cut)
- everything above
- assemble foods such as a yogurt parfait, smoothie, or salad
- stir ingredients together (like muffins, pancakes, sauces)
- slice soft-cooked vegetables, soft fruit, cheese or tofu with dull (or sharp knife if you're supervising)
- spiralize veggies
- beat an egg
- use simple kitchen equipment (ie. grater, toaster, blender, food processor or can opener) after you show them how to do so safely
- pour water or milk
- measure ingredients
- pouring and flipping pancakes (with supervision)
- Making French toast (with supervision)
- pour muffin batter into muffin cups and putting them in the oven/take them out with mitts