Remember when kids would sit at the dinner table and colour while Mom did the cooking? Not anymore. Kids are cooking side by side with their parents from a much earlier age. It isn’t all that unusual to see kids chopping, dicing and slicing with age-appropriate, kid-size tool.
One important thing to keep in mind when cooking with your kids is that just because they can do a task doesn’t mean they will do it well—as in neatly, quickly and accurately—or safely. That's why your supervision is so important. What really matters is that they are spending time doing it with you. Take your time. Don’t start a project with a time-sensitive end like dinner that must be done before 7:30. Have fun.
That being said, here are some age-appropriate tasks you can delegate with adult supervision.
Even 2- and 3-year-olds can do more than you may think. Just watching them play with coloured food-safe dough will show you how adept they can be. They can make a salad, tearing lettuce and adding sliced cucumbers. Help them carefully measure the appropriate number of servings of salad dressing into a small cup, then add it to the salad. You’ll give them the experience of pouring, but you won’t end up with seven servings of dressing on a salad for four.
Anything involving “playing” in water is fun; that means washing fruits and veggies for any meal. Stirring is in the realm of the possible, but toddlers tend to be overly enthusiastic with this one, and the mess gets to be huge. Mashing cookies with fingers into crumbs in a freezer-weight resealable bag is also fun for kids: Mashing anything always brings a smile.
When kids are 4 or 5, they can handle a bit more in the kitchen. Baking becomes more of a possibility because their gross motor skills are more fine-tuned. The reason this matters is that baking does require a bit more accuracy than, say, making a salad. You do still need to watch it with the stirring: Things seem to fly out of the bowl. Egg salad is a hit with these kids. Peeling cold hard-cooked eggs is well within their skill level. Don’t forget sandwiches. Using a spoon to spread mayonnaise onto bread is a fine way to get kids to make their own lunchtime food. Just add lettuce and some lunchmeat and they’re good to go.
Small hand tools make every task fun for preschoolers, so think cookie cutters, blunt scissors and ice cream scoops. They each have many uses: cutting cookies, sandwiches or cake shapes; snipping herbs; and scooping ice cream or batter for muffins, cookies and cupcakes.
Ages 6 to 10 are when this all really comes together and gets to be even more fun for you, because now your kids can make something everyone is going to want to eat for dinner. They know what they like and can help plan a meal. They can choose which part they want to make with you. Cooking at the stove is possible with safety measures in place. Putting things in the oven with oven mitts is fine for 9- and 10-year-olds, but taking things out of the oven is still a job for Mom or Dad. Learning how to safely peel vegetables is appropriate after age 8 and a great way to introduce the nutritional importance of veggies and their colours if you haven’t already done so.
It’s also the right age to get kids on board with more refined social skills. We assume that they are totally down with “please” and “thank you” by now, so helping clean up the mess they made in the kitchen is next. And don’t forget how cooking can improve math and reading skills. Reading a recipe from beginning to end before you begin cooking is key to success. Out loud works well here. Doubling a recipe is a great math exercise. Making family favourites is a way to connect with past generations and tell funny family stories.
No matter what you end up cooking, when you’re doing it with your kids, it’s going to be fun.