Kids in the kitchen: Early involvement yields oodles of fun

Posted by Amanda Leisenheimer, R.D.
November 23, 2015

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As a young child, I remember always wondering what was going on in the kitchen. It seemed to be the place to be with all the commotion, sounds and smells. One day, my dad propped me up on the counter beside him while cooking dinner, and I got to see firsthand what the fuss was all about. And I loved it. From that day on I was always in the kitchen, supervised of course. I was the “official stirrer” mixing up everything from cookie batter to sauces on the stove. As I grew older, my responsibilities changed. I learned how to cut foods like a chef and make recipes that my grandmother used.

If your kids are interested in cooking, even from a very early age, involve them in the kitchen. The holiday season is a great time to start involving your little sous chef. Holiday cookies, anyone?  It’s also a great way to bond and help your kids expand their food choices. The more children are involved in the process the more likely they will want to try different foods other than pizza or chicken nuggets.

Here are a few guidelines for various ages and education levels:

Start as young as toddlers with supervision. Younger children can actually help out in the kitchen. Being involved makes them feel as though they are part of something special. Give them the opportunity to do simple and safe tasks such as pouring premeasured ingredients into a bowl. Allow them to watch and learn at the same time.

Kindergarten and 1st grade with direct supervision. Ask them to measure items using a measuring cup (while simultaneously developing great hands-on math skills), wash fruits and vegetables, hand mix non-sticky items in a large bowl.

2nd to 3rd graders with supervision. If you feel comfortable as a parent, this age group can try peeling vegetables, grate cheese and mix sticky items in bowls.

4th to 5th graders with supervision. Start using a can opener, stir stove top items, pound chicken and scrape bowls.

6th to 7th graders with limited supervision. If you feel comfortable as a parent, this age group can start using a knife and be more independent with cooking after instruction and prove they are capable and safe.

Remember, every child’s individual skills are different so it is what you, as a parent, feel comfortable letting them try in the kitchen. The holidays are a great time to help your child develop culinary skills that can last a lifetime. You might be surprised at what your children can do!

Amanda Leisenheimer is a licensed, registered dietician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Lake City

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