Getting Your Kids Involved in the Kitchen

If you want your child to build a healthy relationship with food, get them involved in the kitchen early and often! We know cooking with your kids can be a handful and quite daunting in the beginning, so follow these simple tips to make it a safe and enjoyable experience.

Getting Your Kids Involved in the Kitchen

Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN

If you want your child to build a healthy relationship with food, get them involved in the kitchen early and often! There are a number of benefits to inviting your kid to be your very own sous-chef, like:

  • Exposure to new foods, textures, and cooking techniques that will lead to more adventurous eating and more peaceful mealtimes overall
  • Increased excitement about trying new ingredients and flavor combinations
  • Increased engagement during mealtime because they were involved in the cooking process
  • Improved nutritional choices, communication skills, and patience
  • Development of fine motor skills 
  • Increased sense of accomplishment, which leads to more confidence and higher self-esteem 

Of course, this sounds great in theory, but getting started can be a bit daunting. So, here’s what you need to know about safely getting your kid involved in the kitchen:

  1. Plan, plan, plan. Look at the recipe beforehand and identify all the child-safe activities that are appropriate for your kid at their particular age. Toddlers love measuring and dumping ingredients, pulling apart herbs, mixing, and even cracking (raw!) eggs. Check out this article about teaching your kid to crack an egg. 
  1. Prep beforehand as if you were on a cooking show! The more organized you are before you start, the faster and smoother the cooking experience will be. Toddlers have such short attention spans and waiting for you to measure out the ingredients before they can dump them in might lead them to lose their focus, at least in the beginning. Over time, they will develop more patience, so you won’t have to do this forever, but at the start, prepping and measuring out what you can ahead of time will keep them more involved with less downtime. 
  1. Expect errors and embrace the mess. As much as we want the flour to end up in the bowl, expect some mess as your child learns these new skills. If you are baking and there isn’t room for little mistakes, give your child their own bowl and some flour, and let them play with those ingredients while you cook the real thing.
  1. Stay consistent. Your child will become more proficient more quickly if you can cook the same recipe (ideally, on the same day) every week. We like to make overnight oats once or twice a week because it’s a simple recipe that gives kids lots of chances to dump in the ingredients. They always get really excited for this weekly activity! 

As your kids practice the recipe steps over and over, the repetition will improve their confidence, self-esteem, fine motor skills, and communication. You will probably start to see them “make” the food items you regularly cook together when they are playing on their own. It’s adorable and also reinforcing!

  1. Last, but certainly not least, plan for taste tests. Set aside some safe food items that they can taste instead of the potentially raw, unsafe item you are preparing. If adults are tempted to lick the spoon (cake batter, anyone?), you know our little ones will be too! It’s only fair that we provide something safe for them to taste test. In our homes, we love to have dried fruit or some seaweed snacks ready so that our kid has something safe to taste instead of being tempted by unsafe ingredients. 

You can shop our favorite items for getting your kids involved in the kitchen. Our top picks are a learning tower, a mini set of pots and pans, measuring cups and spoons, and child-safe knives. We know cooking with your kids can be a handful, but remember the benefits and embrace the mess: with preparation and practice, this will become an activity that is instructive and, dare we say, enjoyable! 

Need more tips on cooking with your kids? Listen to our Getting your kids involved in the kitchen – the why, when, and how podcast. And check out our freebie: Tips for Raising Less Picky, Intuitive Eaters.