Connecting with our children during meal prep is so much fun. Of course there are culinary skills that are age appropriate and those that are not (yet).
What age is appropriate? Well, the earlier you start the better. But I would say when your child is around 8-11 years old this is the perfect time to start cooking together. If your children are younger, here are some ideas set forth by William Sonoma on age appropriate kitchen duties for kids:
Preschoolers (Ages 2 to 5)
As their motor skills develop, preschoolers can begin to learn basic concepts that they will need in the kitchen. Keep in mind that their attention spans are short, so small tasks are usually best, particularly those that do not call for actual prep work. They can help assemble sandwiches, layer lasagna, top a pizza, or sprinkle decorations on cupcakes or cookies. Other suggested tasks include:
- Stirring batter in a bowl. A large bowl with a nonskid base will be sturdier for beginners, and a spoon with a thick handle will be easier for small hands to grip.
- Rinsing and straining fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Mixing and kneading pizza or other yeast dough. Keep work surfaces and hands well floured to avoid sticking.
- Pouring liquid ingredients.
- Spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread.
- Mashing potatoes and other cooked vegetables.
- Rolling bread or pie dough.
- Using cookie and biscuit cutters.
- Whisking pancake batter.
- Cutting soft fruits and vegetables with a dull butter knife or plastic knife.
- Measuring liquid and dry ingredients.
Young Cooks (Ages 6 to 8)
With a grasp of some basic cooking skills and an appreciation for the rules of the kitchen, young cooks are ready to take on more complex tasks using more kitchen equipment. One of the most important decisions you have to make: When is your child ready to begin using adult knives, the stove and oven? Of course, close and constant supervision are required at all times.
As kids learn to read, an especially rewarding activity is to read cookbooks and follow recipes with your child. Because children in this age group have a longer attention span and patience, this is also a great time to try some fun kitchen projects, such as growing an herb garden, creating a sourdough bread starter, making yogurt, or making fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Here are some other tasks to try together:
- Whisking eggs.
- Frosting cupcakes and icing cookies.
- Mixing cookie dough and brownie batter.
- Using specialized hand tools, such as a can opener, juicer and garlic press.
- Grating cheese with a box or hand grater.
- Peeling fruits and vegetables.
- Mixing and rolling pie and tart dough.
- Making fresh pasta dough and using a hand-cranked pasta machine.
- Melting chocolate in a microwave.
- Whipping cream with a hand mixer.
- Making ice cream with a countertop ice cream maker.
- Using paring or other small knives. Remember that dull knives can slip and be more dangerous than sharp knives.
- Boiling eggs and pasta.
- Frying eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Preteens (Ages 9 to 12)
Preteens will continue to gain confidence in the kitchen and should be able to read labels, follow recipes and prepare many parts of simple dishes themselves. After developing a basic comfort level using knives, the stove, oven and small appliances, preteens will be ready to expand their cooking capabilities. This is an important time to discuss food safety issues, especially how to handle and fully cook meat and poultry. Core skills to learn and practice with your help include:
- Trimming and slicing vegetables.
- Putting foods in the oven and removing them.
- Working with timers and thermometers.
- Baking quick breads and muffins.
- Kneading dough and letting it rise.
- Cooking soup.
- Using specialty appliances such as a panini press and waffle maker.
- Steaming rice.
- Roasting vegetables.
- Cooking pancakes on a griddle.
- Using a food processor, blender and stand mixer.
- Frying hamburgers.
- Using a chef’s knife and other larger knives.
Teenagers (Ages 13 to 16)
Teenagers should no longer need close supervision and can safely cook most foods for themselves. They can choose what foods to cook, and combine their skills to make more complicated dishes and complete meals for the family. Evaluating food labeling and nutritional information with your child will help reinforce healthy eating habits.
Teens who want to learn more advanced skills will still need some instruction and supervision to master these skills:
- Using all kitchen appliances, including safely handling and cleaning the sharp blades of food processors and blenders.
- Developing knife skills to efficiently chop, dice and mince.
- Baking more complicated yeast doughs and pastries.
- Making risotto.
- Marinating foods.
- Panfrying and grilling steaks, chicken breasts and other meats.
- Using slicers and mandolines.
- Using and cleaning outdoor gas and charcoal grills.
- Deep-frying French fries and chicken.
The benefits of cooking with our children are immeasurable. Not only will you be teaching them a life skill they are not learning in school, they will be more inclined to have a more sophisticated palate if they find themselves in the kitchen tasting their self-made recipes.
I know it takes a lot of patience to cook with kids. You don’t have to do this everyday. The weekend is a great time to start. Each parent knows their child’s maturity level and how much or how little their child can take on in the kitchen. Before you know it, your teenager will be preparing dinner for the family. Wishful thinking I know. Dont forget folks, the most important part of cooking is cleaning. Nobody likes a dirty kitchen. Be sure to instruct your child accordingly. Wash as you go is usually the most effective.
Have fun with this activity with your child/children. Remember, time goes by really fast. Our kids will grow in a blink of an eye. If we do not draw them near to us by any means necessary, you will wake up one day, and those little hands will be all grown up.