by Sonia Jean-Philippe, Registered Dietitian, and Christa Poirier, RN, Public Health Nurse
Did you know parents have the biggest influence on children when it comes to learning about food and cooking? Hands-on cooking activities are great ways to improve mealtime practices and eating habits. These activities help build the self-confidence and self-efficacy of children through skill development. Not only that, the kids might just cook you a meal!
Here are a few tips before you start cooking with your children:
-Keep it simple. Select easy recipes with few ingredients.
-Read and review the recipes together.
-If working with more than one child, make sure they each get a chance to participate in the steps.
-Involve them from start to finish. It is important that they see ingredients in both a natural state and in a completed meal.
Safety first: Always mention that it is not a race and going slowly is okay.
But what skills should be taught and when?
Keep in mind that each child is different. The tasks listed here simply give you an idea of what children can generally do based on their age. Use your judgment to decide which tasks are appropriate for your child.
Two to three years old
Young children learn through their senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste. Supervise them while they try these simple tasks:
-Wash vegetables and fruits
-Tear salad greens
-Break apart broccoli or cauliflower
-Add items to a bowl
-Mix and pour ingredients at room temperature
-Find ingredients and sort them
-Pick fresh herb leaves off the stem
Three to five years old
This is a stage when children may be pickier. They are more likely to try and eat foods they help select and prepare. They may:
-Mash soft foods (bananas, cooked beans, boiled potatoes)
-Peel foods (hard boiled eggs, fruits, shrimp)
-Assemble foods (a simple sandwich or pizza, trail mix)
-Weigh, measure, add and stir ingredients
-Cut soft foods with a strong plastic knife (mushrooms, strawberries, cheese, banana)
-Use a spoon or hands to mix together ingredients
-Roll, shape and cut dough using plastic cutters and a small rolling pin
Six to eight years old
At this stage children can follow simple steps for recipes and they’re able to share and take turns. They can:
-Learn cooking vocabulary (mince, dice, chop, sift, beat, grill, broil)
-Toss salad ingredients together with salad dressing
-Read simple recipes and labels with help
-Fill and level measuring spoons and cups
-Grate cheese, carrots
-Cut with scissors. If you can get smaller scissors or children’s scissors, use them to snip herbs
-Beat and fold
-Grease and line a cake tin or tray
-Peel oranges or hard-boiled eggs; make sure eggs aren’t too hot
Nine to 11 years old
When children reach age nine, they can start to get involved with planning and undertake activities with a bit more independence. Though supervision is still important because of the number of hazards in a kitchen, we suggest taking a hands-off approach where possible. Kids may:
-Work with simple kitchen equipment with supervision (peeler, grater, toaster, blender or can opener, microwave, handheld mixer)
-Make their own lunches
-Follow a simple recipe
-Use the stove, with supervision, to make basic recipes (boiled eggs, pasta, omelettes, pancakes, quesadillas, soups or grilled cheese)
-Cut with a sharper knife with supervision. Children should learn how to form their hand into a claw to keep fingertips out of danger
-Write a grocery list
-Decide what is needed to balance out a meal using foods from all four food groups
-Use a thermometer and timer
Do you have questions?
Speak with a public health nurse. Call 613-PARENTS (TTY: 613-580-9656)
Connect with a public health nurse, registered dietitian, and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page
Visit with a public health nurse at one of the Parenting in Ottawa drop-ins.