When I started to cook with my kids I was slightly paralyzed with where to start. For one thing, I knew my children should be helping more in the kitchen, but I still didn’t understand the importance it was to their overall success and happiness. And on the other hand, I had absolutely no clue what cooking skills my kids were capable of and what tasks I could expect of them at each age.
So today, I really want to reiterate the importance of bringing your kids into the kitchen and teaching them how to cook. I’ll also give suggestions for teaching your kids appropriate cooking skills by age, with a fun and helpful printable you can download at the end!
So first, let’s jump into why cooking is such an important skill for your kids to have!
Why is it so important to get your kids cooking in the kitchen?
When I started teaching my kids how to make dinners for our family, I was mainly focused on how it would make my OWN life easier. It never even occurred to me the plethora of amazing benefits it would have for my children…and our entire family! Here’s what I discovered while teaching my kids how to cook using cooking skills that are appropriate for their age.
Teaching your kids to cook has so many incredible benefits, such as:
- Learning important life skills
- Boosts self-confidence
- Encourages better health
- Saves time and money
- Enhances family relationships
Why is cooking good for children?
I feel so strongly about the topic of teaching your kids to cook that I wrote a post all about it. If you want to learn more about the benefits of cooking with your kids, read this post where I discuss all of the advantages your kids gain when you teach them how to cook.
It may not be the fastest way, or even the cleanest way, to get dinner on the table. But teaching your kids cooking skills is incredibly rewarding and completely worth your time.
Teach your kids cooking skills by age
Did you know that cooking skills are directly related to healthy food choices? Unfortunately, this also means adults who lack cooking skills will struggle to serve healthy meals to their families.
If we want to give our kids the best start to a healthy life, we need to teach them how to create healthy meals with their own two hands in the kitchen. They need to learn cooking skills appropriate for their age and watch as they build on those skills and flourish right before your eyes.
And I have a handy-dandy, kids cooking skills by age printable to help you, that you can download at the end of this post!
Because if your kids never have the opportunity to learn under your guidance, it will be much more difficult for them to learn the same skills as adults when they have to take on the world by themselves.
Even adults can learn new cooking skills!
Have YOU ever wanted to learn a new technique in the kitchen? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of whipping up a decadent chocolate soufflé? Or perhaps you stumbled on the most delicious-looking made-from-scratch chicken pot pie recipe you’ve been dying to taste?
Well, another unexpected benefit I discovered when teaching my kids how to cook is all the new skills I would get to learn for myself! We had so much fun learning and growing together in the kitchen.
You won’t know until you try
A few months ago, while doing our regular, Saturday morning planning sessions, Dylan asked if he could make beignets [ben-YAYs] for his dessert. This was a brand new dessert request and he was super excited. I was terrified.
But I rolled up my sleeves and together, Dylan and I made those beignets.
They turned out DELICIOUS.
Teach them how to cook when they’re young
Give your kids experience and time in the kitchen with you. Especially while they’re young. Your kids can learn simple cooking skills appropriate for their age and build on them over time. Even if you have to get to learn some new skills along with them!
Remember: you are investing in your children’s future! They are learning valuable kitchen skills, you are gaining help with meal prep, and you are both scoring parent-child-relationship points.
It’s a *WIN* from every angle!
Let go of your inner control-freak
Parents, we need to let those controlling tendencies go so our kids can grow and learn!! Even though it will take you extra time to delegate, teach, and monitor, it is SO worth it in the long run for the skills they are learning.
This world is new to your child and there are so many things to learn in the kitchen. Your kids will need plenty of time and lots of exposure. So teach them young, and teach them often.
What age should my child be when they start cooking?
The sooner the better! There is no age limit to when toddlers can start observing and helping in the kitchen. They can begin watching you cook meals when they are young. And slowly let them take over any skills they find an interest in and are capable of doing.
Really, you can adapt a task for any age!
Right now, my boys—ages 8 and 10—have the chore of unloading the dishwasher every morning. And my little girls—ages 2 and 4—LOVE to help! So we adapt the job for them by first removing all the knives and breakables. Then we let them take each item out and set it on the appropriate counter to be put away.
They especially love to place each piece of flatware in the organizer. And then they close the dishwasher door all by themselves.
Kids cooking skills by age
Get your children excited to help you cook dinner by teaching them kitchen skills they can do by themselves.
While cooking with my kids over the last few years, I have put together a list of skills that my kids have learned at different ages. Each skillset builds on the next. (You can get my list in printable format at the end of this post!)
Once my children have mastered certain cooking skills and gained sufficient motor skills, I eagerly teach them more skills to help with the meals.
Ages 0-3: observing and exploring
Children, especially toddlers, are very curious. Don’t squelch that curiosity! Let them look at, smell, taste, and touch ingredients. Allow them to explore with all their senses.
Talk to them. This toddler stage will start to ask questions. Take every opportunity to teach them about shapes, colors, tastes, and textures of different foods. Talk about where different foods come from.
Explain what mom is doing. As you whisk up eggs for a cake, explain what you’re doing and why. They can learn cooking terms, names of kitchen tools and how to use them, as they watch you cook.
Let them help. Allow them to help you wash fruits and veggies, or mash up soft foods like avocado, bananas, or cooked potatoes with a food masher. Toddlers can also learn to tear lettuce for a salad.
Learn by playing. They can watch and imitate kitchen skills if you set out plastic containers, a whisk, spatulas, bowls, and measuring cups for them to play with. Let them push buttons on appliances for you or help you set the timer.
Let them taste everything. I love to let my toddlers taste EVERYTHING while we cook. Did you know it can take up to 15 different *tastes* for your child to begin to like a certain food?
A simple cure for picky eaters
In my post about all of the important reasons kids need to learn how to cook, I talk about how teaching your kids to cook encourages better health. And allowing your toddlers to taste foods while you cook is one of the ways you can encourage good health choices.
So, expose them to different foods and let them taste-test everything while watching you cook. Each simple exposure will inch them closer and closer to enjoying many different foods. And farther and farther from picky-eating tendencies.
Ages 4-6: discovery and imitation
This is a fun age where you will watch your child discover new things and try to imitate everything you do. A lot of what they can do will depend on their dexterity and attention span.
At this age, I will let my kids try their hand at almost any basic skill. If you can muster up the patience—and you should!—it’s fun to let this age be involved in every stage of the meal—from choosing produce at the store, to setting food on the table for dinner.
Toddlers love to imitate you doing chores
Children in this age bracket enjoy imitating older siblings and parents doing household chores. My little girls (pictured above) love to help unload the dishwasher and set the dishes on the counter for me to put away. And I love how they’re learning teamwork and how to pitch in to help at such a young age!
Here is a list of tasks that my kids can do at this age with very little help:
- Peel hard-boiled eggs.
- Pour pre-measured ingredients in a bowl.
- Stir batter and other not-hot foods.
- Tear lettuce for a salad.
- Set the timer.
- Use a biscuit cutter to cut out shapes and place them on a sheet pan.
- Gather ingredients for a recipe.
- Dry dishes with a towel.
- Unload the dishwasher (not heavy items & remove knives first).
- Cut soft foods with a plastic or wooden knife (banana, egg, strawberries, cheese).
- Frost and decorate cookies and cupcakes.
- Use a rolling pin to roll bread or pie dough.
- Set the table for dinner.
- Use a pestle and mortar to grind garlic into a paste (suggested by a reader!)
- Use a masher to mash soft foods (banana, cooked potatoes, avocado)
- Pick cilantro or parsley leaves off of the stems.
- Spread butter on bread.
- Scoop batter into baking pans. Dump ingredients and stir.
- Clear dirty dishes from the table.
Ages 7-9: Experiment and collaborate
This age can be a huge help in the kitchen. They can safely and easily do all of the tasks above, as well as collaborate with you on more difficult skills to help with a meal.
If your child is between the ages of 7 and 9, encourage them to attempt some of the following skills.
- Measure wet and dry ingredients.
- Begin to read and follow a recipe with help.
- Grate cheeses and make a cheese quesadilla.
- Crack eggs—into a separate bowl before adding to the main mix bowl.
- Make school lunches.
- Help clean up the kitchen and wipe down counters.
- Rinse dishes and load them in the dishwasher.
- Pour and flip pancakes.
- Help you roll out and cut fresh pasta.
- Demonstrate and practice stovetop safety.
- Crush garlic.
- Use a peeler to peel fruits and vegetables.
- Sweep the kitchen floor.
- Make scrambled eggs.
- Help plan a menu.
- Use a can opener.
- Use a real (paring) knife to slice produce (cucumber, zucchini, apples).
- Whip heavy cream with a hand mixer.
- Fry eggs.
- Boil eggs and pasta.
- Grease and flour pans for baking.
- Knead dough.
Ages 10-12: Planning and multitasking
Supervision is still necessary for some things, but they can definitely take on a lot more responsibility at the age. Your child is probably reading well by now and can follow directions easily. They can be a tremendous help in the kitchen!
If your child is between the ages of 10 and 12, and they have a working knowledge of the previous skills above, invite them to try some or all of the following skills during their next cooking session.
- Plan menus on their own.
- Write up a shopping list.
- Read and follow a recipe on their own.
- Multitask dinner duties (i.e. put pasta on to boil while chopping up veggies).
- Read and follow cooking directions and nutrition labels.
- Use most kitchen tools and appliances.
- Handle raw meat safely (wash hands in between each contact)
- Use a chef’s knife to cut flat produce (i.e. a cucumber already sliced in half)
- Put foods in the oven and use a hot pad to remove them safely—with supervision.
- Use timers and thermometers.
- Separate egg yolks from the whites.
Ages 13 & up: Skilled and capable
This is where the real fun begins! If your child has been cooking for a while now, they’ve probably learned all the previous skills mentioned above. So this is the age where their skills and fresh confidence in the kitchen allow them to let loose and discover their inner “top chef”.
If your child has been cooking for a while now, let them try their hand at some or all of the following skills.
- Use all kitchen tools and appliances.
- Practice expert knife skills (dicing, chopping, mincing, julienne cut, chiffonade, etc.)
- Bake elaborate breads, cakes, and pastries.
- Deep-fry foods.
- Make a dish from a complicated recipe.
- Experiment with different flavors and textures.
- Prepare entire meals on their own and serve to the family.
Your child is ready to cook dinner by themselves!
It’s a wonderful feeling to pass the chef’s knife and apron to your child! And watch them survive and even THRIVE in the kitchen without you. Remember to expect messes, anticipate mistakes, and don’t forget to teach safety in the kitchen.
But most of all, don’t forget to cheer them on and praise them for their progress and success. They deserve it!
You will find that by teaching your kids to cook and help in the kitchen, they will come to appreciate all the effort that goes into cooking delicious meals for the family. And spending quality time with your kids and learning together is so rewarding and incredibly memorable.
Download my cooking skills by age printable
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all the skills you child can—and will—learn when cooking with you. But I hope you find it useful!
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