Get ideas from the meal prep experts on simple kids cooking activities for different stages. Cooking with kids does not have to be stressful!
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Do you have visions of cooking alongside your child, getting quality time together and helping them develop a lifelong love of preparing healthy food, but it always seems to go awry?
Or maybe your child is just starting to get old enough to begin helping in the kitchen but you have no idea where to begin.
I personally enjoy cooking with my kids, as long as I'm not in a rush. That's a big caveat. Cooking with kids can be highly rewarding but it is certainly not efficient or mess-free. Not when they're really young like my two boys at least.
Still, kids cooking activities don't have to be complicated or require a ton of planning. You don't have to plan extra fun recipes to make together. You really can just find simple meal prep tasks you're already doing and invite them to join you.
But is it worth the hassle? I'm going to talk a bit about the benefits of healthy cooking with kids and then I'll get straight to the kids cooking activities for different stages.
Why is healthy cooking with kids important?
I specify “healthy” cooking with kids here for a reason. So many people bake cookies and holiday treats with the kiddos, but never include them in the regular dinner prep.
I get it! Baking together is wonderful for memory making and it is of course a lovely cooking experience for children. They learn to mix and measure and it's a great opportunity for some real-life math and chemistry discussions. But, I encourage you, don't stop there! There's so much more kids can gain from cooking alongside you.
- Food Exposure: Healthy cooking with kids helps children become comfortable with a large variety of different foods. Even if they refuse to eat salad, you may notice them munching on a few of the ingredients as they help you meal prep. Even if they don't, they're seeing and touching different vegetables, which increases comfort level with different foods over time. My friend and cooking with kids expert, Katie Kimball, has a great interview on the importance of letting kids explore food with touch and smell if you want to lean more.
- Fine Motor Skills: As kids learn new kitchen skills, they will also practice using their hands in different ways. This helps them build their fine motor skills, which is so important for handwriting and other practical tasks.
- Life Skills: This is of course one of the biggest benefits of cooking with your kids! You want them to grow up and intuitively cook healthy meals, rather than having no idea where to get started in the kitchen.
- Confidence: Gaining any new skills is a wonderful confidence booster for kids. This is particularly true for cooking though because it empowers them to serve you. They get to be the ones providing something useful for the family, which isn't often a feeling young kids experience.
Convinced? Let's move on to the actual kids cooking activities so you can get started!
Kids Cooking Activities for Different Levels
You'll notice there are no “recommended ages” included below. This is because every child is different and has a different level of experience in the kitchen.
Introduce one skill at a time, supervising to make sure your child is safe. Once your child has mastered one skill, show them another one!
Children can start with some of the beginner activities when they're toddlers.
Beginner Kids Cooking Activities
This is the time to keep it simple! Invite your child to help you with a specific task. If you have a toddler, don't be surprised if they're done before the task is complete. That's okay! They will stay longer and help more over time.
This is a great stage to teach good kitchen habits like washing hands before they help and helping clean any messes that arise. Even toddlers can help clean a spill with a sponge or sweep up a mess with a small broom and dustpan. It may not be perfectly clean, but this does help them gain a sense of responsibility.
Here are some activities very young children or total beginners can be successful with:
- Pouring and mixing pre-measured ingredients
- Washing produce at the sink with a learning tower, or with a vegetable brush in a bowl of water
- Tearing lettuce or kale leaves for a salad
- Pulling leaves off of herb stems. Picking herbs is also a lovely kids cooking activity if you have an herb garden.
- Peeling hard-boiled eggs
- Slicing hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms or strawberries with an egg slicer
- Spreading nut butter, cream cheese, hummus, etc. with a spreading knife
- Peeling clementines or bananas
- Mashing potatoes or avocados for guacamole
- Pitting olives or cherries
Intermediate Kids Cooking Activities
At this stage, your child can learn to chop a variety of fruits and vegetables and complete simple, no-cook recipes. You can also begin to follow your child's interest in the kitchen. Is there a certain kitchen gadget they really want to learn to use? Show them how, as long as it's safe!
Or perhaps they'd enjoy choosing a couple of recipes from one of your cookbooks to make together.
Giving them a bit of autonomy makes it more fun so they want to keep helping you as they get older.
I also highly recommend my friend Katie Kimball's virtual kids cooking classes at this point. She is all about teaching kids real skills for healthy cooking in the kitchen. She's offering a free kids knife skills class for our Prep Dish community! (<< affiliate link)
Here are some intermediate kids cooking activities:
- Using an apple slicer (Tip: Buy small apples or cut the apple in half horizontally first if they're not strong enough to do the whole apple)
- Using a wavy chopper, nylon knife or butter knife to chop fruits and veggies
- Peeling carrots
- Cracking eggs
- Making a salad from start to finish
- Measuring ingredients for baking
- Grating cheese, carrots, ginger, etc.
- Using a zester
- Peeling garlic
- Making a sandwich independently
- Packing a lunch for school
Advanced Kids Cooking Activities
This stage is all about combining the skills your child has learned, making recipes independently and following their interests in the kitchen!
Here are some sample skills but if your child wants to learn to grill, show them how! If they want to bake bread, help them learn. Follow their curiosity and interests.
- Using a metal kids knife with safety features
- Chopping trickier produce like broccoli, cauliflower and bell peppers
- Making a smoothie
- Cooking at the stove – start with something simple like scrambled eggs
- Following a recipe independently (for example, guacamole, energy bites, or muffins)
- Grocery Budgeting – give your older child a budget and let them plan a meal, including the grocery shopping!
Kitchen Safety for Kids
In addition to the mess, kitchen safety for kids is often a deterrent to getting kids in the kitchen. It can feel scary when they start actually chopping things and using heat!
The knife skills class I linked above is an excellent way to ensure your kids are chopping safely. Here are a few more tips:
- One Skill at a Time – Always introduce one new skill at a time. Don't teach your child to chop a carrot and then cook it on the stove top at the same time, especially if they're young. Encourage them to practice one skill until they've really mastered it and then introduce something new.
- Kids Cooking Tools – Child-sized kitchen tools make cooking safer for kids. Tools that are actually meant to be used by little hands are less likely to slip out of their grasp. The Montessori-inspired site, For Small Hands, is an excellent resource for kids cooking tools.
- Flat Surface – Make sure your kids have a flat surface when chopping. If your child is going to chop a carrot, first cut in half lengthwise so it lays flat. Also, place a dishtowel under their cutting board to prevent it from slipping.
- Supervise – Of course, you'll still want to supervise any time your child is chopping or cooking with heat.
Family Meal Prep ideas – What to Cook Together
I'm a big believer that kids can help cook (and eat!) almost anything. You do not need special recipes to cook with your kiddos. Still, you have to start somewhere! So if you need a little inspiration, here are a few recipes that are fun for family meal prep together.
Once your kids start cooking with heat, they can make this recipe all on their own!
Younger kids can help chop the green onions (kitchen scissors work great for this!) and assemble the quesadillas.
Simple and healthy, this is the perfect family meal prep recipe to make with the kids! If they enjoy eating tuna, they can prepare it and pack it for their school lunches.
From peeling the eggs to chopping the apple to making the vinaigrette, this salad has SO many kids cooking skills your child can practice!
More Kids Cooking Activities Resources:
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