CHS Blog

Cooking with Young Children

Cooking with Young Children
Posted on June 28, 2024 by CHS

Cooking with Young Children

Teaching children how to cook will help them develop a healthy lifestyle, build their confidence, encourage independence, support muscle development and coordination, and enhance their knowledge of math, science, literacy, and social skills. Spending time in the kitchen together is also an opportunity to socialize, work towards a goal, negotiate, and enjoy each other’s company. Cooking projects can be easy and safe to do with children. In fact, you do not even need a stove or oven to make simple snacks, side dishes, and sandwiches.

Cooking Safety

Start by creating a few simple kitchen rules for your child to follow. For example: An adult needs to be with you in the kitchen or always wash your hands before cooking. Base your rules and expectations on your child’s age and abilities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests the following safety guidelines:

  • Fasten hair back if it is long
  • Wear clean clothes, with short sleeves
  • Start with hand and table washing
  • Taste with a clean spoon. A licked spoon goes in the sink, not back in the bowl
  • Resist nibbling cookie dough or cake batter that has raw eggs in it
  • Stay away from hot surfaces and sharp objects. An adult needs to help
  • Work at a table; preferably a child-sized surface
  • Walk slowly. Carry food and utensils with care
  • Wipe up spills

Work on learning these four general food safety rules with children:

  • Be clean
  • Keep raw and cooked food separate
  • Cook food to the proper temperature
  • Refrigerate perishable food right away

What Children Can Do

Remember that children need to be supervised by an adult when they cook, especially when using the stove or sharp kitchen tools. Toddlers can use measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons, bowls, baby spoons and forks, and wooden craft sticks can be used like a knife.

Preschoolers can use a potato masher, whisk, spoons, forks, plastic knives (or butter knives), a hand grater, an egg beater, and a rolling pin. Kindergartners can use appliances like a blender, electric hand mixer, wooden skewers with blunt ends, a vegetable peeler, and an apple corer with adult assistance.

Supervise school age children learning to use a microwave, stove top, oven, rice cooker, blender, or waffle maker. The following is a list of some kitchen tasks children can typically do at specific ages, depending on their developmental level. Once again, all work in the kitchen should be supervised by an adult.

Two to Three Years Old:

  • Wipe tables
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Break broccoli and cauliflower into pieces
  • Stir ingredients in a bowl
  • Tear lettuce
  • Pour liquids (at safe temperature)
  • Mash potatoes
  • Use cookie cutters that do not have sharp edges
  • Whisk pancake batter
  • Shake liquids in a sealed container to make a dressing
  • Put things in the trash

Three to Four Years Old:

  • Grease pans
  • Open packages
  • Peel oranges or hard-boiled eggs (once cooled)
  • Snip fresh herbs with dull scissors
  • Mash bananas with a fork
  • Frost cupcakes and ice cookies
  • Mix cookie dough or brownie batter
  • Spread nut butter and jelly
  • Peel fruits and vegetables
  • Knead dough
  • Cut parsley and green onions with kid-safe scissors
  • Set the table

Five to Six Years Old:

  • Measure ingredients
  • Use an egg beater
  • Cut soft foods with a butter knife
  • Set the table
  • Garnish food
  • Grate cheese
  • Help put away groceries
  • Work with timers or thermometers
  • Clip grocery coupons
  • Use appliances like a blender or hand mixer with adult assistance
  • Assemble sandwiches

Seven to Eight Years Old:

  • Help plan the meal
  • Roll and shape cookies
  • Beat ingredients with a whisk
  • Find ingredients in a cabinet or spice rack
  • Make a salad
  • Fry eggs or a grilled cheese
  • Boil eggs and pasta

Nine to Twelve Years Old:

  • Open cans
  • Use a microwave oven
  • Prepare simple recipes with few ingredients
  • Use an oven (with supervision)
  • Use a knife (with supervision)
  • Shred cheese and vegetables
  • Trim and slice vegetables
  • Bake quick breads and muffins
  • Cook or heat soup
  • Use appliances such as a waffle maker, blender, or mixer
  • Steam rice
  • Roast vegetables
  • Cook pancakes on a griddle

Thirteen to Sixteen Years Old:

  • Prepare recipes with multiple ingredients
  • Prepare recipes independently
  • Develop knife skills to efficiently chop, dice, and mince
  • Bake more complicated pastries
  • Marinate foods
  • Pan-fry and grill meats
  • Use slicers and mandolins
  • Deep-fry potatoes and chicken

This list was compiled using information from the We Can! and Williams Sonoma websites. The age ranges are approximations. Observe your child’s developmental level to determine which tasks they can manage.

Time to Cook!

Decide what to cook and read the recipe with the children. Invite them to help gather ingredients and talk about any new vocabulary words in the recipe. Always demonstrate how to use cooking tools before you start. Begin with simple tasks like washing fruits and vegetables, tearing lettuce for a salad, adding ingredients to a bowl, mixing ingredients, mashing potatoes, or peeling hard-boiled eggs.

Point out the science when it is visible, such as how heat can make eggs solid or zucchini soft. Temperature changes often change the color and texture of different food items, and this provides an opportunity to discuss the science behind cooking. Using measuring spoons and cups offers an opportunity to practice math skills, and following the structure of a printed recipe shows children the purpose of informational text.

Once children become more skilled, introduce simple recipes they can make themselves, like spreading nut butter and jelly on bread to make a sandwich, mashing a hard-boiled egg with some mayonnaise and a little salt to make egg salad, layering granola, fruit, and yogurt in a cup to make a yogurt parfait, or spreading nut butter on a whole wheat tortilla and rolling it around a banana to make a breakfast wrap. As children observe you in the kitchen and their cooking skills grow, they will become more interested in nutrition and preparing meals.

Recipes to Try

Extend your child’s learning by creating a family recipe book together. Include traditional recipes made by your family as well as new recipes your family tries and likes. The following recipes have been featured in our Child Care Provider and Parent Newsletters.

Fruit Salad

  • 1 lb. strawberries, quartered
  • 6 oz. blueberries
  • 6 oz. raspberries
  • 2 oranges, peeled with wedges cut in half
  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups grapes
  • ¼ cups honey
  • ¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, orange juice, and lemon zest for the dressing. Add fruit to a large bowl and pour the dressing over, tossing gently to combine. Serve cold.

No-Bake Oatmeal Cookies

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup of softened butter
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

In a large bowl, combine the oats, sugar, and cocoa. With clean hands, mix in the water, vanilla, and butter to form a dough. Wash your hands again. Roll the dough into balls that are 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Roll balls in confectioners' sugar until they are thickly coated. Chill the cookies for 20 minutes before serving.

Texas Caviar

  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 4 medium plum tomatoes
  • 1 stalk green onion
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup low-fat Italian dressing
  • 1 medium lime
  • ¼ cup cilantro

Drain and rinse the black beans and corn;chop tomatoes, green onion, and bell peppers. Stir chopped ingredients together in a bowl with Italian dressing, juice from the lime, and chopped cilantro. Serve cold with corn chips.

Corn Chips

  • 1 cup yellow corn flour
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil

Mix the flour with water and salt until the dough forms. Break the dough into small balls about the size of a tablespoon and press each ball flat with a rolling pin. Transfer them to a baking sheet, slice them into strips, brush olive oil liberally, and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 425⁰ F for 10 minutes, and then flip them over to cook the back for an additional 2 minutes. Enjoy.

Breakfast Smoothie

  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 ½ cups frozen blueberries (or other frozen fruit)
  • 1 cup low-fat Greek vanilla yogurt
  • ½ cup low-fat milk (or dairy substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or other sweetener of choice)
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pour the oats into the blender first and blend them until they are a fine powder. Next, add the frozen fruit, yogurt, milk, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. Blend the mixture until it is completely smooth. Store it overnight in the refrigerator and stir it before serving, or serve it immediately.

Vegan Pancakes

  • 3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 2 ¼ cups unsweetened plant-based milk
  • 2 medium overripe bananas
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Fresh fruit of choice (optional)

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. For a thinner batter, add plant-based milk one tablespoon at a time for the desired consistency. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium. Use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop the batter into the heated skillet. Allow the pancake to cook until bubbles appear around the edges; around three to five minutes. Flip the pancake over and cook it for an additional three minutes until the bottom is browned. Top the pancake with the fresh fruit of your choice and serve warm.

Lentil Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 dash garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • One14 ½ ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 ½ cups water

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onions. Stir them until the onion is tender, and then add the garlic, oregano, basil, and pepper. Cook them for two minutes. Stir in the lentils and tomatoes. Add the vegetable broth and water. Bring the soup to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Allow it to simmer for at least one hour, or until the lentils are tender. This recipe makes eleven cups of soup.

Stovetop Mac and Cheese

  • ½ pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ounces evaporated milk
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
  • Optional: mix in some raw or steamed veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat. Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat, continue to stir for three minutes or until creamy. Stir in steamed vegetables. Serve warm.

References and Resources

Recipes featured above:

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