Let me preface this by saying that my kids (well, at least half of “my kids”) now have children of their own, so it has been a while since we were teaching them how to cook.
However, my granddaughter recently wanted to help baste the turkey (she’s three), and I realized we are definitely at an age where she can help out around the kitchen.
This realization has led to a walk down memory lane, dragging out old photo albums featuring my son in a miniature chef’s hat and my daughter incredibly proud of her very first pretzels.
This brings us to today and this article. If you are trying to figure out which cooking skills your child (or grandchild) is ready to adopt, I’m hopeful I can help out.
1. Keeping the Kitchen & Their Hands Clean. We all know just how important cleanliness is when cooking. Washing our hands often, making sure we don’t leave a mess behind as we go, and tidying away after cooking are integral parts of being a good cook. Kids can learn how to keep the kitchen clean and the importance of washing their hands very early on—you can engage them in the cleanup as young as 2 or 3, and they’ll be more than happy to contribute.
Pro Tip: Get a special soap they get to use and a set of kitchen cloths with an appealing design to ease the process along.
2. Washing Fruits & Veggies. Along the same kinds of lines, there’s washing all that glorious food you are preparing. This can also be their task from a younger age.
Explain the differences between different kinds of fruits and vegetables: what needs to be peeled, what needs to be washed, what can be cooked with the skin on, and so on. This is also the perfect time to explain what each item is, where it is grown, and what it is used for. Because, remember, our kids might not know as much about food production as we had hoped.
3. Making a Simple Breakfast. This can mean boiling an egg, making toast using a toaster, making porridge—something they can whip up for themselves.
Putting together a sandwich is often the first thing you can teach them, as it does not have to involve turning on the stove, using any kind of appliance for that matter, or the use of a knife.
When they learn how to read, you can create a little recipe book that houses all these simple recipes, and illustrate the steps with their own drawings.
4. Understanding Basic Measurements. As your kids begin to learn basic math, you can easily apply the principles they are working with in school in the kitchen.
Teach them how to measure liquids, how to use kitchen scales, and how to measure in cups and spoons. Let them actually do the measuring—and if they get it wrong, they learn they need to be more careful in the future.
5. Using Appliances. Make sure the appliances you have around the home are safe for your children—auto-offs, timers, doors that close firmly, all will come in handy when working in the kitchen with your younger kids. If you need a bit of help using and choosing them, you can check out some of my pointers on The Confused Nester.
When they can understand the basic concepts of heat, electricity, and cooking, teach them how each appliance works, what it is used for, and how they can turn it off in case of an emergency.
Now you can then move on to actual recipes!
6. Meal Planning. Planning meals is another important aspect of working in the kitchen. It involves knowing which items from the fridge and pantry need to be used first, what goes with what, and how much time you have to prepare a meal. Portion sizes will also come into consideration.
This is a skill you should definitely work on with your older kids. Take them to the store with you and have them join you as you map out a meal plan for the week. Explain the logic behind buying certain items, and watch as they start to get a hang of the usual meals you make and what needs to go in them. You can also use handy sheets and lists to help you out.
7. Basic Knife Skills. When teaching knife skills, start with a plastic knife. Use it on bananas and other soft foods, until your kids know how to handle the knife with confidence. You can then move up to using a duller kind of knife for the rough chopping—fruits and veggies that don’t need to be finely diced. Finally, you will graduate to a real metal knife and work on fine motor skills—onions are your best friends here.
8. Seasoning & Other Flavors. Finally, you can work on adding extra flavor to your dishes and teach your kids the importance of spices and seasoning.
The most fun, but perhaps not the most appetizing way to do this will be to make a lot of mistakes. Use spices one by one and teach your children what they actually taste like and what they go with nicely. Of course, make sure you read up on the use of spices yourself first, if you are not already a pro when it comes to the use of the spice rack.
Most kids will be happy to join you in the kitchen and will enjoy working on different aspects of a dish with you. Don’t push them out with the excuse of “you’re too young, you’ll hurt yourself.” Teach them the skills they need so they don’t injure themselves in the kitchen, and you will be nurturing their love of cooking and food alike.