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Thursday, 14 September 2000

Cooking with Kids Can Be Fun! Here is How

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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So you just read why it's great to cook with kids. Now, here's a step-by step program describing how to cook with your child, teach her all kinds of great skills and have fun, all at the same time.


1. Set up a convenient workspace for you and your child.
(Or children -- I currently do cooking projects with at least two, if not all three of my children and, yes, we have to work hard on taking turns.) If you have limited counter space, it may make sense to do the preparation on the kitchen table.

2. Buy or borrow a stool.
If you are working on a counter that is too high for your child, buy or borrow a stool to bring your child to the level of the activity.

3. Choose recipes.
If cooking is new to your child, stick with simple, child-friendly recipes. While almost every recipe can be adapted to be of interest to small children, start with basic recipes (3-5 steps) and work your way up to more difficult ones. Choose foods that he likes to eat and will be excited to say that he helped make. Eventually, you can choose foods that are new to him in order to expand his experiences. (Children are usually more likely to try foods that they helped cook.)

I will provide you with child-friendly recipes regularly. These recipes have all been "formally tested" -- in my kitchen, with my children -- and I will be passing on only the recipes they truly loved! I have also used many of these recipes in my classroom with up to 12 children at a time! Take a look at your own recipes and see which ones your child might enjoy preparing together with you.


1. If you are using a cookbook, get out the cookbook or recipe that you will be using.

Children learn just by seeing that their parents use books as references.

2. Assemble the ingredients you need before calling your child.

You don't want to leave your child unsupervised around a half-finished batter while you look for new ingredients. Preparing ahead will not make the process take longer; it will just mean putting in the time before rather than during the activity.

3. Call your child and show him the recipe.

If this is your first time cooking with your child, introduce him to the concept of a cookbook. If the book you're using does not have illustrations or you're not using a cookbook, you can also have on hand cookbooks with illustrations. Explain that if you don't know how to make something, you go to a cookbook for instructions. (In this way, he'll learn one of the many ways that reading helps us in our lives.)

4. Wash Hands.

Make sure your child washes his hands before any cooking activity. Let him see you wash your hands. This way he learns that cleanliness rules apply to everyone, not just to children.


Directions for cooking activities vary by the recipe you are preparing. The following are some basic suggestions that apply to many recipes. In the recipe section, I'll also give you suggestions relating to specific activities.

1. Name each ingredient as it is being used.

If your child is old enough, have her say the name of the ingredient after you. Don't make it like a test. If she does not remember, tell her.

2. Let your child feel and smell the item you are using.

Have her compare various textures (i.e. rice vs. flour).
For an older pre-schooler, ask questions like: " Which one do you think feels nicer?" " Which smell do you like better?" (Remember there is no correct answer, you are just giving your child the opportunity to think about what he is doing.)

3. Let your child taste various ingredients.

WARNING: Never let your child taste raw eggs, fish, poultry or meat. These items can be dangerous to your child's (and your) health. When you work with a recipe containing these ingredients, have her taste the ingredients before any of the foods listed above are added.

There is obviously no time to taste every ingredient. Choose two or three. I would suggest items of different taste groups: salt, sugar, lemon, and even a tiny amount of pepper. Ask questions like: "What do you like better?" For older pre-schoolers you can talk about different taste groups -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter.

If there are items that look and feel similar (salt and sugar is a great example) point this out to your child and have your child taste both. Have your child guess which is which by tasting them.

Once again, these questions are aimed at older pre-schoolers (aged four to five). For younger children (aged two to three), you can do these same activities (tasting, smelling, feeling), but let them "feel the experience." Discussion can come when your child is older.

4. Let your child put in as many ingredients as possible.

You can do the measuring and hand your child the cup with the right amount of each item to put into a bowl. If you think it best, hold her hand and guide it to make sure the ingredient makes it into the bowl.

As you are putting things in, talk about whether you are putting in a lot or a little. You can ask questions like: "Are we using more salt or more pepper?"

Some ingredients are not appropriate to be handled by young children. Just tell your child that now it is "Mommy/Daddy/Grandma's turn" and do it yourself. You can still label the ingredient and mention if you are putting in a lot or a little of that ingredient.

Sometimes you can adapt ingredients. A three-year-old can't crack an egg, but the parent can crack the egg, put it into a cup and have the child pour the egg into the batter.

5. Let your child mix the ingredients.

Most items need a bit more mixing than a child can manage, but you can have your child start and then you can finish the process. Take turns; first your child and then you, your child and then you. Show her that you can mix fast and mix slow. Practice each way. If you are using a mixer, then show her how you turn it on and off. Point out how the different settings determine if the mixer goes fast or slow.

WARNING: Never leave an electric mixer plugged in around a young child. Do not turn your back, even for one second, while the appliance is plugged in. I plug in my mixer one second before I use it and unplug it the second I finish. Discuss with your child that a mixer can be dangerous and how important it is not to touch it while the mixer is working.

6. Let your child help you put the food into the oven, onto the stovetop or into the refrigerator.

Discuss with her if you want the food to be hot or cold. Let her touch the food before and after and feel the difference. (Make sure the food is not too hot for her before you let her touch it.)

7. Clean Up.

If possible, clean up as soon as possible. Let her see that the rule "clean up after you are finished" also applies to adults. Let her help you. Older pre-schoolers usually love cleaning the counter; just make sure the sponge is only slightly damp so she does not flood the kitchen while cleaning.

8. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you don't eat what you make, your child certainly won't want to. While you're eating, discuss what you did. What ingredients did you use? Play a game. See how many ingredients she can remember. Try and see if she remembers what you did first...second...last. Talk about how much fun it was and discuss any problems she might have had. (Sharing, making a mess, etc.)

QUESTION: All this stuff sounds great, but if I do all these steps each time, a 15-minute cooking activity will take hours!

Correct. You can't do everything, every time. Above I listed several basics. Choose a few ideas for each activity. If you have time, you can try and think beforehand which activities might be appropriate. If not, play it by ear and just proceed with the activity without all the educational input.

QUESTION: I tried doing everything you said and my child didn't seem to enjoy it. Do all children like cooking activities? Should I continue?

Every child is different. In my experience, most, but not all children enjoy cooking activities. It could be that cooking is not for your child. I would give it a second or even a third try and if your child is still not thrilled about it, don't worry, there are plenty of other great activities that she might enjoy better. (Check out our arts and crafts section for other suggestions.) Keep in mind that children's interests change as they grow older and even if she doesn't enjoy cooking with you now, it may be worthwhile to try again every six months to see if her interests have changed.



Last modified on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 19:29
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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