Kitchen Safety: How to Cook Responsibly With Kids
It's no secret that if you want your little ones to enjoy a well-rounded diet and to look forward to mealtime, the key is to let them have a hand in cooking, even just once in a while. When they have a chance to impact — ever so slightly — what they're making and how it's prepared, they'll feel ownership over the meal and be more likely to dig into the final dish. Plus, kids are more apt to take interest in and try a new, healthy ingredient if they're able to warm up to it before it's simply scooped onto a plate in front of them.
But at what age is it appropriate to let kids start cooking, and what tasks are most fitting for little chefs to take on? We have the answers below, plus kid-friendly recipes that are easy to make with youngsters and sure to please the whole family.
Julie Negrin, M.S., a nutritionist and speaker dedicated to teaching both children and grownups how to cook, says that there's no such thing as an incorrect age to start cooking with your kids and letting them have a place in the kitchen. Even toddlers as young as two years old can pitch in during meal prep, but it's important to give them very specific jobs and of course monitor them at all times. "This age group … needs very close adult supervision, a lot of space and large bowls," Julie notes, "since their dexterity and motor skills are still developing." So while your 3-year-old may not be ready to slice broccoli florets off of the stalk, he can surely rinse the entire head under the sink or put the produce into a bowl once you've chopped it.
Older children, those at least six years old, can lend a hand with measuring ingredients or using a potato peeler or cheese grater, because by then, their fine motor skills will have improved and they'll have better control over the tools and utensils with which they're working. Kids this age are pros at "forming evenly sized cookies and patties, pouring liquids into small containers and garnishing (or “decorating”) dishes," Julie explains.
By the time your child is 10 years old, chances are he or she is ready to handle a chef's knife. But perhaps more than any age parameter, it's important that you feel comfortable with your child working with sharp objects or performing any task in the kitchen, no matter how old he or she is.
While allowing your kids in the kitchen may indeed be beneficial for them, it can mean slower meal prep for you and may indeed test your patience. One of Julie's top tips for cooking with kids is setting up a prep space just for your little ones. "Seat them at the dinner table or counter away from the heat so that you can whip up dinner with minimal interference," she recommends. "Take advantage of those long days off from school and find a few recipes for them to cook that just happen to result in a family dinner."
Eager to start cooking with your kids? Check out the simple, kid-friendly recipes below from some of your favorite Food Network chefs.