How to Get Kids Cooking

An essential skill that lasts a lifetime
Oksana Juzmina/

There are a few basic necessities required to survive in this world: food, water, shelter, fire, and a positive outlook on life. When it comes to essential life skills, learning how to cook is arguably among the most important. As a parent this is an invaluable gift to give your child and it will continue to give throughout their lifetime. Get kids cooking in the kitchen with you to make the process natural and reinforce healthy eating habits.

Set ground rules

Understandably, the thought of teaching a child to cook can be scary! There is no doubt that kitchens, full of heat sources and sharp things, can be dangerous. This is why it is critical to first educate children about safety around equipment and appliances.

  • No running
  • Wash hands before cooking
  • No standing near or touching hot appliances (unless invited to)
  • Wait for instructions
  • No handling knifes (unless training to use one properly)

When to start 

Cooking lessons can start as early as age 2. Always base lessons according to the child’s skill level. Children aged 2-5 need constant supervision and can assist with small jobs like measuring, pouring, and mixing ingredients. This is an important step to build confidence and familiarity in the kitchen, as well as a chance to learn and practice basic math and motor skills.

For children aged 6-11 you can introduce small cutting tools. Start with a serrated steak knife. Educate children on the importance of knife safety and handling techniques.  Make sure to:

  • Hold the handle firmly in the palm of their hand
  • Prep fruits and vegetables so there is always a flat side to prevent ingredients from rolling
  • Practice cutting different shapes (i.e. slices, mince, large chop, julienne)
  • If the knife falls from the hand, let it drop

Let them explore 

Show them ways to experiment with ingredients to make cooking an adventure: what happens when you "forget" an egg? Does thyme taste different from rosemary? Encourage them to try different variations by making versions with different options such as mixing some pancakes with bananas and some with berries. This is a good chance to show them they can sometimes do things like add less salt or sugar (or use substitutes), no matter what the recipe says!

Once a child feels comfortable in the kitchen the sky is the limit. Once children are contributing to meal preparation, odds are they will more likely eat their meal.  At this stage, it may be beneficial to try and incorporate one new ingredient, spice, or herb once a day. This will help broaden their palate and challenge them to be open to new things. 

It is never too early to start talking about healthy options, nutrition, recipe ideas, portions and balanced meals. Cooking will help support their health, encourage them to value food, inspire creativity, and self-sufficiency when they eventually leave home.

*Originally published August 24, 2016