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Cooking with Kids Can Be Fun!

Few experiences are as much fun for children as cooking. Cooking offers connections to many learning opportunities from math to science, to language and sensorial. When we cook here at Pine Grove, children combine ingredients, mix, stir and taste. They also use the descriptive words of literature-nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs-to describe the what, how, where and why, as well as movements, volumes, textures, tastes and feelings associated with food and cooking.

The combination of learning and cooking can be continued at home. Try extending, or beginning, a cooking activity with a book. Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, or Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey are just a few favorites that connect literature with cooking. Connecting books with enjoyable family experiences-like cooking and conversation-sends your child the message that reading is fun for children and grown-ups too!

The attached article “Cooking with Kids can be Fun!” by Esther Boylan Wolfson, discusses the many learning experiences that cooking with children brings as well as includes some helpful hints for making the experience workable and fun for both of you.

So, as you tackle the many cooking projects that the upcoming holidays bring, set aside plenty of time and plenty of counter space and share a few special moments with your children while cooking up some special memories too!

Cooking with Kids Can Be Fun!

By: Esther Boylan Wolfson, MA

Retyped from Whole Family Center, Inc. at

Part One: Why Cook with Kids?

Does your child constantly bother you while you’re preparing food in the kitchen? Are you tired of hearing your child complain about the food you make? Here’s my suggestion: Involve your child in the cooking process! I love cooking with children. I know, I know-sometimes kids make a mess in the kitchen. Everything takes longer to do and what if the kids ruin the recipe? Any and all of the above may be true, but the potential for fun and learning outweigh the risks! And you may discover that you love it too!

Kids love being involved with preparing food. That’s part of why they’re so likely to get in the way in your kitchen. They’re interested in what you’re doing, while you may be ignoring them. So rather than push them away, draw them in.

Cooking activities are appropriate for children aged two and up. Obviously, the kind of involvement and learning is different for a two-year old and a five-year old, but both can be involved in the process, learn while cooking and have fun!

Let me show you some of the many ways children learn through cooking and then I’ll give you some directions on how to teach your child while you’re cooking and still get supper ready. (Yes, it may take a bit longer to prepare, but think of all the time you’ll save by not having to constantly stop to keep your child from getting in the way!)

  1. Follow directions: Teach your child what a recipe is and that one must “follow the directions” in order for the recipe to work. Children learn that you must read directions and follow them in a certain order to get the results you want.

  2. Simple arithmetic: Compare the amounts. Are we putting in more flour or more baking powder? What is bigger, a half cup or a whole cup? How many half cups do you need to equal a whole cup? Develop his sequencing skills. Ask him, “What do we do first….second….last?”

  3. Sensory awareness: Use ingredients with a variety of textures, smells and tastes. Let him feel the difference between rice and beans. Let him taste the difference between sugar and salt. Have him smell the difference between various spices and the sweet smell of vanilla.

  4. Vocabulary enrichment: Enhance your child’s knowledge of ingredients and items found in your kitchen. Flour, sugar and eggs may seem like everyday words to you, but they are not basic to your three-year old.

  5. Concept development: Improve your child’s understanding of concepts. Hard vs. soft, liquid vs. solid, hot vs. cold, raw vs. baked, in the bowl vs. out of the bowl, fast vs. slow, etc.

  6. Cause and effect relationships: Increase your child’s ability to answer questions like: “What happens if….(you add juice instead of water, you use bananas instead of strawberries?)” Children can learn how adding, leaving out or changing one ingredient can change the entire product.

  7. Cooperation: Improve your child’s ability to work together with you and with other children. This includes waiting for his turn and having fun in a joint activity.

Part Two: Here’s How to Do It

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 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.)


  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 children. 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.

  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 a test. If she does not remember, tell her.

  2. Let your child feel and smell the items you are using. Have her compare various textures (i.e. rice vs. flour). For an older preschooler, ask questions such as “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 preschoolers 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 them both.Have your child guess which is which by tasting them.

Once again, these questions are aimed at older preschoolers (age 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 in the 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 alot 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 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 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 preschoolers 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 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. Keep in mind that children’s interests change as they grow and even if she doesn’t enjoy cooking with you know, it may be worthwhile to try again every six months to see if her interests have changed.


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