Cooking With Young Children: Tips and Age-Appropriate Activities

Little girl and her mother preparing lunch at home. (Photo: iStock - MixMedia)

Benefits for Kids

Cooking with young children is a win-win. The child gets to feel grown-up, you get to promote healthy habits, and you both get to enjoy quality time together.

Cooking with children is a way to promote their future health by teaching valuable culinary skills and nutrition. Picky eating behavior is common among children ages 2 to 5 years. If children help prepare food, they are more likely to try it! Of course, it can also pose challenges. Be patient and understand that messes will happen.

Safety Considerations

Child-size equipment, close supervision, and activities that match the child’s developmental age are key to the child’s safety while cooking. Always choose cooking tools that match the child’s age and ability and teach them how to use the tools correctly. Trust your judgement as to whether the child can safely do the tasks.

Show children how to properly wash their hands. Focus on letting the child help with foods that pose little to no choking or illness risk, such as fruits, vegetables, or dry ingredients. Stay away from raw meat, eggs, and foods that are small, round, and hard until you trust the child will not bring them to their mouth.

Teaching Prompts

Engaging the child in decision making and discussion will help them feel like even more of a part of the cooking experience. Consider the following prompts.

  • Involve them in the meal planning. Let them choose some of the foods you will serve. Such as, “Which of these options should we make tonight?”
  • Teach food safety while cooking by demonstrating and explaining proper handling, storing, and temping.
  • Talk to them about the food groups and what makes the food they make nutritious. Such as, “This Greek yogurt provides protein to keep us full and help our muscles grow. These berries give us vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy.”
  • Praise and thank them for their efforts.

Age-Appropriate Cooking Activities

Enjoy spending quality time with your child by bringing them into the kitchen with you! Below are examples of age-appropriate cooking activities.


  • Wipe tables and work surfaces.
  • Tear salad greens.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in a small pan of water.
  • Carry ingredients from one place to another.
  • Wash and dry lightweight, unbreakable dishes and pans.
  • Break apart broccoli, cauliflower, and grapes.
  • Shaking food, such as pudding, in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Help put some groceries away.
  • Put things in the trash.

3 to 4-Year-Olds

  • Everything a 2-year-old can do.
  • Peel hard-boiled eggs, bananas, or oranges.
  • Learn to use measuring spoons and cups.
  • Cut semi-soft foods, like cheese and bananas, with a plastic or kid-safe knife.
  • Set and clear the table.
  • Pour some liquids.
  • Stir batter with a spoon.
  • Mash soft foods with a fork.
  • Mix or pour ingredients.
  • Shake liquids in a covered container.
  • Apply soft spreads.
  • Cut parsley and green onions with kid-safe scissors.
  • Help make sandwiches and tossed salads.

5-Year-Olds and Older

  • Everything a 2, 3, and 4-year-old can do.
  • Load the dishwasher.
  • Measure ingredients.
  • Grease or spray baking pans.
  • Knead dough.
  • Help assemble a pizza.
  • Mash potatoes.
  • Read a recipe.