Little Kitchen Helpers: 5 Tips for Cooking with Kids

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The National Nutrition Month theme, “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” reminds us that each bite counts and invites us to cook more at home. Considering that home-cooked meals are usually healthier, teaching kids how to cook becomes an important life skill we can help develop. 

The benefits of involving kids in the kitchen are short- and long-term: It helps broaden their palate, cultivates an appreciation for real ingredients, builds math skills and develops confidence. Plus, it’s a lot of fun! I have great memories of my mom and I cooking together, and I’m now passing down the tradition to my 4-year-old daughter. Parents may be afraid that cooking with kids will mean more mess and more time, but with a few guidelines, that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some tips to help parents get started:

Plan Ahead and Start Small

You may need more time when cooking with kids, especially at the beginning and with younger kids. Choose one meal per week that a child can help with. Invite kids to be part of the recipe and ingredient selection. You may want to start with an easy dessert or side dish, like the recipe at the end of this post.

Find Doable, Age-Appropriate Tasks

It varies from child to child, but the following are some tasks they might be able to do at different stages:

2- to 3-years old: mixing and pouring ingredients, stirring and mashing, washing and drying produce, picking fresh herb leaves off stems and ripping them into small pieces, tearing up lettuce, peeling fruit with hands (tangerines, bananas), kneading dough, brushing oil with a pastry brush.

4- to 5-years old: cracking eggs, using a pepper grinder, measuring dry and wet ingredients, decorating cookies.

6- to 7-years old: whisking, grating, peeling, dicing and mincing fruits and vegetables (with supervision), greasing pans, shaping patties and meatballs, plating.

8- to 9-years old: Continue with the above tasks or decide if they are ready to take on more sophisticated responsibilities to follow an entire recipe and cook on a stove with supervision.

10- to 12-years old and up: After assessing how careful they are with heat, sharp tools and food safety, they might be able to work independently in the kitchen with an adult in the house.

Accept That Not All Children Like to Cook

In this case, they can help with grabbing ingredients, washing produce, setting and clearing the table and tasting dishes for seasoning. Their curiosity and interest in the kitchen may change over time.

Safety is a Priority

An adult should always supervise cooking until certain that his or her child is old enough to handle the responsibility. Part of cooking with kids is teaching them kitchen and food safety.

Consider This Experience an Investment!

These mini chefs are more likely to eat what they make and become more audacious in trying new foods. Plus, by age 12, they may be able to help prepare dinner before you get home. And by the time they leave home, you’ll feel good knowing they don’t need to rely on delivered or frozen dinners. Ready to get started? The recipe below is simple and easy to make with kids, and these mini quiches are a perfect way to include more veggies in family meals, even breakfast. Personalize this recipe by adding favorite herbs!


 Crustless Mini Pumpkin Quiche

Makes 12 mini quiches, or 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pureed pumpkin
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray two 6-cup muffin pans with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix pumpkin puree, sour cream, eggs, 2 tablespoons cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  3. Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pans, filling each compartment to just below the rim. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  4. Bake in the oven until firm, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
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Romina Barritta de Defranchi
Romina Barritta, DTR, is a dietitian based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She runs GlobalDietitians.com, a networking site for food and nutrition professionals from around the world. She is Board member of the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (IAAND). Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.