Bringing young ones into the kitchen to help with meal prep and other food-centric tasks can help lay the foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits, including being more open to trying healthy new foods. It will take some flexibility on your part and maybe some prep work and more clean-up, but this special cooking time with Mom or Dad also has the added bonus of building math concepts, language skills, and fostering self-confidence.
The trick for successfully working with preschoolers in the kitchen is to choose skills they can actually master. Keep the cooking activity short and sweet; 5 to 10 minutes might be all the attention they can muster. For safety reasons, be in the kitchen with them at all times, supervising and monitoring their activities.
Pick some of these “job” suggestions that meet your child’s skill level and is something they would enjoy:
Stirring pancake batter
Give them a deep bowl, a big wooden spoon, and a space for working that is waist level for them. Let them sit at a table, or, with your careful supervision, stand on a sturdy stepladder.
Now this is fun and simple. Kids can tear lettuce for salad – or bread for stuffing or bread pudding.
Let them stand on a sturdy stepladder with your supervision, in front of a clean sink filled with water. Let them roll up their sleeves and swish away!
If you’re baking, measure the flour, sugar, and other ingredients, and let them add it. They’ll love to dump them in. Older preschoolers may be able to measure the flour and sugar – just make sure they can see and reach what they are measuring. It’s a great way to start discussing quarter, third, half, and whole unit measurements.
Assemble a pizza
Let them help you place the ingredients. Teach them the importance of washing their hands before handling the food. It’s always fun for kids to personalize a pizza.
“Read” a cookbook Maybe they can’t read yet but you can point out cooking terms, vegetable names, and measurements. Why not expand their vocabulary? And they can always turn the pages when your hands are full of flour.
They can add it to a salad, or on top of a casserole. They’ll enjoy putting on the final touches.
Cooking with preschool-age kids should be fun, safe and easy. If they start having fun now, who knows what wonderful fresh healthy dishes they’ll enjoy cooking up when they get older?
Food writer Debby Maugans, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the author of Small Batch Baking and Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, and is writing a new book, Farmer and Chef Asheville.