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How to get kids cooking in the kitchen

Cooking is an important life skill. Yet, a 2013 survey by Boston’s Tuft’s University revealed 28 percent of Americans don’t know how to cook. The findings may explain why many adults rely on takeout. Make sure when your kiddos eventually leave the nest, they don’t fall into that percentage. Cooking is a skill teens should definitely have in their wheelhouse before heading off to college. Introducing kids to cooking should happen way before senior year of high school. When kids start getting comfortable in the kitchen at an early age, by the time they’re teens they will be able to make meals on their own. So, what are the best ways to get kids cooking in the kitchen?

Setting the table

Make meal prep a family affair by getting everyone involved. Even young children can help set and clear the table for meals. This is a perfect starting point for introducing kids to kitchen basics.

Making lunches for school

An easy way to help kids learn how to make healthy food choices is to let them have a hand in packing lunches for school. Sandwiches are an easy first dish for kids to make and a staple for school lunches. Encourage kids to come up with their own sandwich and snack ideas for their lunchboxes.

Mother and daughter baking cookies in the kitchen
LightField Studios / Shutterstock

Baking

Dessert is probably the favorite part of the meal for kids, which makes baking the ideal activity to generate interest in cooking. While you can’t bake a dessert every day, holidays, special occasions, and snow days are earmarked for baking. Start with something simple like cupcakes. Allow kids to put measured ingredients into the mixing bowl and help stir. They can even work the mixer with supervision, of course. When the cupcakes are done, get them involved in the decoration process. If the cupcakes go well, try a birthday cake next time. There are quite a few tasty dessert recipes that are ideal to create with kids. After one or two baking activities, they will learn the satisfaction that comes from preparing, cooking, and eating their own dish.

Expand a child’s cooking experience

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork in the kitchen by having kids help set and clear the table, have them pitch in by making sandwiches for lunch, and tackled a few baking projects, it is time to expand their cooking horizons.

Meal planning

Some kids are picky eaters while others love to try new things. When kids are involved in the meal planning process, they’re more likely to make different food choices. When deciding on meals for the upcoming weeks, allow kids to have input with the understanding they’re going to pitch in. Of course, you’ll need to set boundaries so kids understand pizza and chicken nuggets aren’t on the menu every night. You can experiment with different homemade pizza and chicken nugget recipes, though.

Food shopping

Once the meals for the week are mapped out, it’s time to hit the grocery store. Taking young kids food shopping can be a disaster sometimes, but for older kids, tweens, and teens the experience is a learning one. When kids and teens help food shop for the ingredients for the week’s meals, they are learning how to read labels, choose healthy foods, and use coupons. All of these things are life lessons they will take with them when they go to college or move into their first apartment.

Meal prep

Even 3 to 5-year-olds can have a hand in prepping a meal. Younger kids can help wash any fruits and veggies needed for the meal. By 6 or 7, kids are ready to learn how to use a peeler and measure out dry ingredients. At 8 and 9, most kids are ready to assist in the chopping process using kid-friendly kitchen utensils.

teen chopping up vegetables
michaeljung / Shutterstock

Make a recipe on their own

By 10, some kids may be ready to attempt their own recipe with parent supervision. You never want to leave a tween manning a stove on his or her own. Let your tween choose a recipe he or she wants to try. Make sure the recipe isn’t too challenging, and stay close at hand to provide guidance or advice if needed. As many adults know, not all recipes turn out well on the first try and every new recipe is a learning experience. This too is an important lesson for young cooks. If your child starts watching “Chopped Junior” on a regular basis, kid-friendly cooking tools make for a great gift.

Not every child is going to develop an interest in cooking, and that’s okay. You don’t want your kids to be part of the 28 percent who only know how to pour a bowl of cereal from the box and order takeout. Learning how to cook and the basics of food prep are important life skills. If you do end up with a mini Martha Stewart or Guy Fieri in your midst, encourage it. It will be great for you to have a sous chef in the house for those times when you’re stuck at work and dinner needs to be on the table in time for practice. By introducing kids to cooking at an early age, chances are, they’ll develop an interest. Cooking is a wonderful family activity. Planning and making meals together is a lot of fun. (Okay, the cleaning isn’t, but that is part of the cooking process and kids need to learn that, too.)

Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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