There is a scene in an old episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart asks Marge if he can help prepare Thanksgiving Dinner, and she lets him do the cranberry sauce. He looks in the wrong cupboards; Marge directs him. He doesn’t know what to do next; Marge instructs him to get the can opener. He needs help finding it. He has trouble and says it’s broken. Marge opens the can herself and hands it to Bart to put into the bowl. Marge asks him to put it in the fridge, but he has already run off so she does it herself. Clearly, it would have been easier to tell Bart to go play instead of letting him help. But it’s great to nurture a child’s interest in food preparation.
Letting your kids slow you down will pay off
My kids (aged 4 and almost 2) love to “help” me cook, and it definitely slows me down! However, I want to encourage them to learn. To be truly independent, everyone should learn at least basic food preparation skills. I have seen some adults so intimidated in the kitchen that they don’t want to try, and must depend on someone else, on convenience foods or on restaurants. I want my kids to grow up feeling comfortable in the kitchen.
I try to let my kids help when I am not feeling rushed or stressed out. Then I can stay patient so that we all have fun while they slow me down, make a mess and learn their way around a kitchen.
Safety and Hygiene
I explain to my kids as I go: “I’m mixing the egg with the whisk; I’m adding margarine using a knife…” They learn the names of foods and utensils and how their food is made. I also talk about safety and make sure they understand the dangers of hot ovens and sharp knives.
We always wash our hands before we start, and if they touch raw eggs or raw meat (I try to prevent that!), they wash their hands again. I explain that some raw foods could make us sick, and preparing food with dirty hands could make others sick.
We made one of our favourites, lasagna, recently. I had already prepared the meat sauce, cut the mozzarella, and cooked the noodles before my son came to help. He spooned on the meat sauce and spread it out and did the same with the cottage cheese. He put the lasagna noodles on (in lumps, and then I spread them out), and then he spread Mozzarella on top.
OK, it isn’t pretty enough for me to serve it in a restaurant, but my son was delighted with it, and very proud of himself. (And he ate it!)
Ideas for kids’ kitchen tasks
Kids can “help” you in the kitchen from the time they are old enough to show an interest.
My 23-month-old daughter mostly observes as I cook, while she plays with pots and pans. Sometimes she hands me items.
Below is a list of activities appropriate for ages 2-5. (Adapted from the USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov website.)
Hand items to adult
Tear salad greens
Turn the pages of a cookbook
Rinse vegetables or fruits
Place garbage in the bin
All the 2-year-old activities
Shake salad dressing
Put toppings on a pizza
Name and count foods
Talk about foods and meal preparation
Help make a grocery list or menu
All the 3-year-old activities
Set the table
Peel some fruits
Help make sandwiches and salads
Help measure dry ingredients
All the 4-year-old activities
Help measure liquids
Use an eggbeater
Bart Vs. Thanksgiving. The Simpsons. Fox. 10 Sept 1994. Television.
Rebecca Horsman is a Registered Dietitian and a Mom of two young children. On her blog, Tots to Teens Nutrition, you can find current research and viewpoints on feeding children so they can grow well, enjoy a wide variety of foods, and develop a healthy body image that can continue into adulthood. Follow Rebecca on Twitter for tips on child nutrition.