Cooking is more fun with kids

April 03, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that kids love getting their hands dirty.

They have just as much fun making mud pies in a back yard “kitchen” as they do making a more-edible yogurt parfait.

It’s a great idea to get kids working in the kitchen, even at a young age. The more you teach kids about good nutrition, the more likely they will be to make a habit of healthy cooking. Another bonus — cooking provides math, literacy and science lessons that are guaranteed to be fun!

Working on a recipe together gives adults an opportunity to teach kids about cleanliness. Thoroughly wash hands, utensils and work surfaces before starting, and make sure kids know not to sample food before it’s cooked.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides an excellent breakdown of tasks kids can safely handle in the kitchen by age:

3-5 year olds

Young children love helping out, but need very close adult supervision since their motor skills are still developing. Teach these youngsters the importance of washing produce and using clean appliances and utensils.

Age-appropriate tasks:

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Make it a game by singing the "Happy Birthday" song together twice as you wash your hands.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in the sink with cool tap water.
  • Wipe up tabletops.
  • Mix ingredients like easy-to-mix batters.
  • Brush (or "paint") oil with a clean pastry brush on bread, asparagus or other foods.
  • Cut cookies with fun shaped cookie cutters (but don't eat the raw dough!).

6-7 year olds

Most 6-7 year olds have developed fine motor skills, so they can handle more detailed work, but they will still need food safety reminders.

Age-appropriate tasks:

  • Use a peeler to peel raw potatoes, ginger, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables.
  • Break eggs into a bowl.
  • Scoop out avocados.
  • Deseed tomatoes and roasted peppers with a spoon.
  • Snap green beans.
  • Load the dishwasher.
  • Shuck corn and rinse before cooking.
  • Rinse and cut parsley or green onions with blunt scissors.

 8-9 year olds

There is a wide range of skills in this age group, so tailor your tasks to each individual's maturity level. Teach the importance of wiping down all surfaces and refrigerating perishables, such as eggs and milk, within two hours.

Age-appropriate tasks:

  • Open cans with a can opener. Be careful not to touch the sharp edges on the can lid.
  • Put leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours.
  • Pound chicken on a cutting board. Note: Always use a separate cutting board for ready-to-eat foods, and be sure to wash hands with warm, soapy water after handling raw chicken.
  • Beat eggs.
  • Check the temperature of meat with a food thermometer – it's like a science experiment!
  • Juice a lemon or orange.

10-12 year olds

For the most part, kids ages 10 -12 can work independently in the kitchen, but should still have adult supervision. Before letting these kids do grown-up tasks on their own, assess whether they can follow basic kitchen rules such as tucking pan handles, unplugging electrical appliances, using knives and safely using the oven or microwave.

Age-appropriate tasks (with adult supervision):

  • Boil pasta.
  • Microwave foods.
  • Follow a recipe, including reading each step in order and measuring ingredients accurately.
  • Bake foods in the oven.
  • Simmer ingredients on the stove.
  • Slice or chop vegetables.

Get cooking! Browse our Healthy Driven recipes.

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