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Get Cooking With Your Kids


Many parents find it challenging to incorporate nutritious, well-balanced meals into their children's diets. They complain that their kids want the same thing for dinner every night or that the only vegetables they eat are peas and corn. It can be difficult for parents to work on improving their children’s diets day in and day out, but teaching children healthy eating behaviors at a young age is essential.

As a dietitian and nutritionist, I get so much enjoyment from seeing the interest and excitement that children have when it comes to food. Teaching them at a young age about nutrition, where food comes from, and how to use food is a very important part of child development. Research has shown that cooking with kids and assigning them tasks surrounding mealtime promotes independence and a sense of responsibility. It also encourages them to build their strengths wherever they are in the course of development – coordination, use of utensils, and learning about foods and certain kitchen objects. As kids get older, cooking with them is a great way to reinforce subjects that they are learning in school, such as math and science. Another amazing benefit of cooking with kids is that they tend to be more excited to try a new food or dish that they helped make than something you just put in front of them. And if these aren’t enough reasons to start cooking with your kids, focus on the fact that it is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy!

I recommend that parents involve their children in the cooking process every step of the way from preparing the shopping list and going grocery shopping together to cooking and cleaning up. It’s also fun to perform food-related activities with kids: let them grow their own herbs, show them the difference between fruit and vegetables, and help them see how all their senses are involved in the enjoyment of food. When it comes to the actual cooking of food with kids, keep in mind that children’s abilities in the kitchen vary by age. Here is a quick rundown of what children can do between ages two and 12.

  • At 2 years old:
    • Wash vegetables, scrub potatoes
    • Tear lettuce greens
    • Snap green beans
    • Name and count foods
    • Put things in the trash
    • Wipe the table
    • Hand items to parents
  • At 3 years old:
    • Add ingredients to a bowl
    • Stir ingredients/batter
    • Shape dough
    • Squeeze citrus fruits
    • Peel bananas
    • Scoop items
    • Mash food
  • At 4 years old:
    • Peel eggs
    • Crack eggs in a bowl
    • Help measure dry ingredients
    • Help make sandwiches
    • Set the table
    • Open packages
    • Pour cereal
    • Talk about basic kitchen safety rules
  • At 5 years old and above:
    • Measure liquids
    • Cut soft fruits and vegetables with a dull knife
    • Make pancakes, scrambled eggs, pasta, and rice with help
    • Use an egg beater

Once children are six they can most likely get involved in peeling, grating, cutting, and grinding ingredients. Between nine and 12 years old they can do more advanced cutting and use an electric mixer. Parents need to evaluate each child’s abilities to determine what he or she can do since every child develops differently.

For some easy, nutritious and delicious recipes that you can make with your children, check out my new book, We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron's, 2011).  Here's one of my favorite recipes form the book that I think your kids will enjoy!

Grilled Plums with Yogurt Dip