The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012


My Little Kitchen Helpers

by Rebecca Horsman, MS, RD

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.

Our Masterpiece

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.

Adding the meat sauce

Adding the cottage cheese


Before Cooking

Before Cooking

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!)

Ready to eat!

Ideas for kids’ kitchen tasks

Kids can “help” you in the kitchen from the time they are old enough to show an interest.

1-year olds

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.)

2 year-olds

Wipe tables

Hand items to adult

Tear salad greens

Turn the pages of a cookbook

Rinse vegetables or fruits

Place garbage in the bin

3 year-olds

All the 2-year-old activities

Add ingredients

Mash potatoes

Scoop food

Stir batter

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

4 year-olds

All the 3-year-old activities

Set the table

Peel some fruits

Crack eggs

Help make sandwiches and salads

Help measure dry ingredients

5-year olds

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.

4 comments to My Little Kitchen Helpers

  • So sweet to see little cooks having a good time of it.

    I loved cooking as a child. My grandma was a great teacher. She’d show me how to do something, “Let’s sprinkle this on like this, so it’s all covered all over.” And then she’d turn the task over to me. Always compliments my efforts and never redid anything. And always let the family know if a child had done any of the cooking or baking.

    Under her tutelage, I began cooking breakfast for 14 at the age of 9…and pretty much haven’t stopped for the past 53 years.

    I’ve never gone hungry or without a job because of these skills.

    • Thanks for the comment! I love to hear about good memories of learning to cook as a child. You were lucky to have a Grandma like that! I hope my kids grow up feeling the same way you do about cooking.

  • I wish that I had a mentor when I was a young mother. I had no family in the state, and no help. I am not complaining just stating fact. I wish I had someone tell me to play with my kids more, that thier entire life at that point was about being with those they loved and having fun. I was always so stressed about the house, cooking, laundry that I often treated my kids like they were little pains in the kester. Now I wish….
    A also wish I had them help me more in the kitchen. I thought I could have them help me and I could get more done…lol….with that in mind it was easier to have them play, or watch tv. Hind site, wish it came first.
    Play with your kids, chuck the house work, and let them help you prepare meals. Settle down, the house will always be there, the kids won’t be.

  • It is definitely tougher with no help. And I can relate to sometimes just wanting to do things myself, and putting the kids in front of the TV so they won’t be underfoot! Hey, we’re all human. That is good advice about playing with the kids while they are young, and letting them help. Thanks for your comment!