Preschoolers Cooking: Teaching Your Little One to be Comfortable in The Kitchen

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“Preschoolers & cooking?” Those might be two words you don’t think go together. However, early childhood is a great time to teach your little one basic kitchen skills and self-responsibility. In this blog post, I share the overall benefits as well as tips and tricks for working with your sous chef in the making! Plus, I’ve shared a free printable set with food and cooking-related kids’ activities. (Scroll down to grab your download!)

Why Let Your Kiddos Help You in the Kitchen?

Photo by RODNAE Productions

According to North Dakota State University, “Cooking builds self-esteem. Children develop confidence, responsibility and independence when they can help you prepare a snack or meal. When they get more practice, they will be able to prepare more foods on their own.”

Therefore, there are many benefits to having your child help out in the kitchen–aside from making memories and family bonding time! Not only do children learn about food and nutrition, but they are gaining several academic and life skills too. Here are some examples of what preschoolers pick up while cooking.

Fine Motor

Mixing, scooping, spreading, and cutting foods are great forms of fine motor development. This type of development means strengthening the small muscles in a child’s hands. Refining these muscles helps children with life skills and gives them more independence with tasks such as feeding, dressing, toileting, writing, etc.

Math

Cooking and baking are chock full of opportunities to learn about math concepts. For example, a child can learn about counting, measurement, quantities, volume, and sequencing all while preparing a single meal!

Literacy

Activities in the kitchen can also lead to learning about literacy concepts. For instance, you and your child can read simple recipes, food labels, and packaging. Your child can even help to write out shopping or ingredient lists. Additionally, cooking provides opportunities to pick up new vocabulary.

Science

Recently, I wrote a blog post about the Scientific Method and introducing STEM learning at home. But, did you know that cooking is an excellent way to let your child learn about science too? Exploration with food teaches science concepts such as temperature, hot vs. cold, and changes in matter, for example.


When to Start Cooking with Kids?

While every child is different, kids generally start to show interest in what’s going on in the kitchen at around 18 months. They might not be able to help much at that stage. However, they can become involved as long as you’re open to a little bit of exploration (and some occasional mess!)

For example, our preschooler has been watching us prepare meals since he was an infant. (As an aside… he used to sit in his highchair and watch my husband and I film our short-lived cooking stream on Twitch/YouTube called, Our Dinner is Dunn.) Now, he’s old enough to help with simple tasks like scooping, mixing, measuring, and even cutting food. And yes, he can cut food! He uses a child-friendly knife. I’ll share the link to it along with other great kitchen gear later on in this post.


How to Begin? Tips for Cooking with Preschoolers

1. Model What You’d Like to See

I’ve said it before. And I will say it again. Modeling is one of the most effective ways to teach young children new skills. Therefore, you want to begin your child’s cooking journey, when they are still an infant, by letting them watch you in the kitchen. As they observe what you’re doing, they are learning the ins and outs of food preparation as well as how to safely handle kitchen tools.

2. Start Small

Something else you want to keep in mind is to start slowly and scaffold the learning. First, let them get familiar with the kitchen by playing with children’s toys alongside you. Then, you can move on to the real thing. For example, we started by setting up our toddler nearby in his pretend kitchen while we cooked. Eventually, he started cooking with us once he began to show interest. These are some of our favorite toy products we use at home.

Sale
Melissa & Doug Food Groups - 21 Wooden Pieces and 4 Crates, Multi - Play Food Sets For Kids Kitchen, Pretend Food, Toy Food For Toddlers And Kids Ages 3+
  • HEALTHY PRETEND PLAY: Melissa & Doug Food Groups Wooden Play Food is a sturdy wooden food set that features items from the five food groups for healthy pretend play. It includes watermelon, corn, milk, cheese, fish, eggs, and more.
  • FUN AND EDUCATIONAL: This play food for kids set helps children plan a well-balanced meal. It helps introduce the basics of nutrition, and can be used to teach early number skills, color recognition, sorting, and grouping. Packaging may vary
  • EASY TO STORE: Four wooden crates are included to sort the food into groups - dairy, produce (for fruits and vegetables), grains, and meat and fish. Kids can also sort by color or use the crates to combine foods to serve up pretend-play meals.
  • GREAT GIFT FOR AGES 3 AND UP: The Food Groups Wooden Play Food set makes a great gift for kids ages 3 to 6. The Melissa & Doug Play-Time Produce and Vegetables Play Food set is a great accompaniment.
  • “THE GOLD STANDARD IN CHILDHOOD PLAY”: For more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that NBC News called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”
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Melissa & Doug Stainless Steel Pots and Pans Pretend Play Kitchen Set for Kids (8 pcs) - Kids Kitchen Accessories Set, Toy Pots And Pans For Kids Kitchen, Cooking Toys For Kids Ages 3+
  • Hand polished stainless steel: The Melissa & doug stainless steel pots & pans play set for kids is an 8 piece stainless steel set including a colander, pot with lid, 2 pans, 2 wooden utensils, and rack
  • High quality and safe construction: Designed with the highest safety standards, the riveted handles hold on tight, and thick stainless steel stands upto years of play
  • Especially sized for kids: Our gleaming pots and pans would look great in any kitchen but have been sized specifically for kids; the included storage rack lets children feel like real pros when they are cooking
  • Great gift for ages 3 to 8: The Stainless Steel Pots & Pans Play Set for kids makes a great gift for kids ages 3 and up; Add the Melissa & Doug Kitchen Accessory Set to round out the hands on, screen free, pretend play cooking experience
  • The gold standard in childhood play: for more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that nbc news called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”

3. Let Your Child Taste and Explore

Think back to when you first introduced your toddler to solid foods. I’m sure your pediatrician told you that it’s normal for them to touch it, taste it, spit it out, and make a mess. This is because kids are getting to know their food using all of their senses. The same still goes for preschoolers. So, it’s important to let me taste different ingredients as they help you cook. (Side note: research actually shows that kids are more likely to try foods they’ve helped to prepare!)

4. Be Flexible

No matter what activity you do with your preschooler, you can always expect some mess. Cooking is no different. Therefore, it’s all about having a flexible mindset. Go into this process knowing what’s to come, don’t expect perfection, and prepare all of your ingredients (and cleaning supplies) ahead of time. This will make things more manageable and enjoyable for everyone.

5. Break it Down

Once your child feels comfortable you can let them help you with meal preparation. Please note that your child doesn’t have to cook every single meal or even an entire meal with you. You can choose what works for your family in terms of days, time, and specifics (i.e. breaking down the steps and having them help you with certain things.) For example, they can make a salad while you sauté onions or they can season veggies while you cut up chicken. As your child gets older and more confident they can take on more advanced tasks.

6. Make Connections

Finally, it’s always a good idea to tie in real-world experiences with what you read about in books. Here are a few age-appropriate, food-related books you can read with your family. Afterward, you can make meals together based on these books.

What Can Preschoolers Do in the Kitchen at this Age?

Non-cooking Tasks

  • Put away utensils
  • Wipe down the countertops
  • Open food packages
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables
  • Set the table

Cooking Tasks

  • Measure and pour ingredients
  • Stir or mix foods
  • Scoop items into bakeware or dishes
  • Cut fruits and vegetables
  • Spread butter or condiments on bread
  • Make simple meals like sandwiches and salads

Kid-Friendly Kitchen Products for Preschoolers Cooking

With all of that said, preschoolers can use items you already have in your kitchen as they help out. But, having kid-friendly items can make the process easier for their tiny hands. Here are some products suitable for children that you might want to check out.

Tovla Jr. Knives for Kids 3-Piece Kitchen Cooking and Baking Knife Set: Montessori Children's Knives in 3 Sizes & Colors/Firm Grip, Serrated Edges, BPA-Free Kids' Toddler Knives (colors vary) Multi-Green
  • SAFETY FIRST WITH PROFFESSIONAL QUALITY: The original kids' knife, our top-quality cooking knives for children feature serrated edges that cut effectively without being sharp to the touch. The non-slip handles are crafted for small hands, ensuring your little ones can chop and slice safely.
  • VIBRANT AND EDUCATIONAL: Our knife set for kids doesn't just ensure safety; it also adds a splash of color to the learning experience. Each set includes a large, medium, and small nylon knife for kids, each in different beautiful, bright colors to help teach knife skills and safety in the kitchen. The colors for each size knife may vary.
  • DURABLE AND HIGH QUALITY GIFT FOR KIDS: Made with BPA-free materials, our kitchen knives for kids are durable, non-toxic, and dishwasher safe. The variety in sizes and the 'kids nylon knife set' are perfect for different kitchen tasks, from baking with kids to crafting a playful pie set.
  • MONTESSORI STYLE LEARNING: Our child-friendly knife set is designed for little hands, making it perfect for kids aged 4 and up. With safety as a priority, these kid-safe knives for cooking foster independence and develop culinary skills in a Montessori-inspired fashion.
  • IMPROVE PICKY EATING AND ENHANCE CULINARY SKILLS: With kid-friendly knives in this childs knife set little ones can safely enhance their chopping and cutting skills. Our kids cooking supplies age 5 and 'kids kitchen tools real' promote educational play and real-life application, perfect for the budding chef.
Farberware Color 9-Piece Plastic Measuring Cups and Spoons Set
  • MEASURING CUP & SPOON SET: The Farberware 9 Piece Measuring Set is the all-inclusive measuring collection for all of your baking and kitchen needs. It's perfect for wet or dry ingredients. this measuring set includes 4 measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup) and 5 measuring spoons (1 tablespoon, 1/2 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon).
  • ORGANIZED STORAGE: Each of these sets nest within each other. They are also held together with a plastic ring to secure each piece together for easy organization and storage.
  • EASY TO READ: The measuring set feature easy to read measurement marking; in standard units.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT: These measuring cups are constructed of durable, lightweight plastic.
  • DISHWASHER SAFE: This set of 5 spoons & 4 cups are dishwasher safe for fast and easy cleanup.
Kids Apron and Chef Hat Set, Children's Adjustable Bib Apron with 2 Pockets. Cute Boys Girls Kitchen Apron for Cooking, Baking, Painting, Training Wear (2-5 Year, Green) S 2-5 Year Green
  • Made from premium polyester fabric, which belongs to uniform cloth, free from harmful chemicals, safe for your kids, this sturdy child apron and chef hat set is machine washable, fade-proof, thick but soft, lightweight and comfortable.
  • Small Size-19.7" x 17.7" (age 2-5 years), Large Size-23.6"x19.7" (age 6-12 years). With an adjustable neck strap and the chef hat, which hides an adjustable elastic band, this kids apron set can fit most toddlers, girls and boys.
  • This green children apron come with two useful pockets in the middle of apron, so they can easy holding the cooking and baking accessories, or painting brush, craft and art tools.
  • This cute kids apron and chef hat set is a great gift for your daughter or son, it will exercise their cooking imaginations. Perfect for kitchen cooking, baking training, painting class, Birthday, Halloween, Christmas and New Year parties, easy to decorate with marker, paint, iron on or embroidery.
  • 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE: We are so confident you'll love my kids chef set that if for any reason you are not fully satisfied, just return it within 100 days for a full refund, no questions asked.

Now talk to me! Does your preschooler cook with you? If so, what do you like to make together? Share your comments below.

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Ms. Sally

Comments 5

  1. This has always been a struggle for me. I grew up never comfortable in the kitchen (fear of knives and fire) and still have a discomfort as an adult! I’ve of course wanted to help my kids not experience a fear of the kitchen.

    My husband is an award winning chef so I’m trying to get him to help. 😂 Our daughter expresses a lot of interest so we let her stir and pour baking ingredients. Our 6 year old just made his first sauce yesterday and fancy dinner with the help of my husband!

    Thank you for these helpful tips! I will definitely be using them!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Justine! I dislike fire too! But, you’re right! Getting kids into the kitchen at a young age can certainly help them to avoid those types of fears.

  2. Growing up, I’ve always helped my mum in the kitchen, so cooking is like second-nature to me now. I would like my kids to start young too. With my 4-year-old, she likes to help me cut simple vegetables and mix the ingredients if we are baking. She loves to knead the dough too. I make playdough out of home ingredients for her, and she would pretend to cook and cut with her play dough and kitchen set.

    These are really useful tips. I’ll be definitely using them more because my youngest is starting to show some interest in cooking as well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cooking and baking are so good for preschoolers! I love all the tips and resources you have here. We try to get our daughter involved with preparing food as much as we can and she loves it! A few days ago we made banana muffins. She’s learning so much and is getting better with practice!

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