Getting kids more involved in meal prep requires adult supervision, but it can be fun – and it’s great family time. Also, kids’ excitement about getting to do new things in the kitchen can be contagious.
Check out the ideas below about how to include and engage kids and youth, from toddlers to teens.
- Rinse fruits and veggies and put in a colander or bowl
- Stir batter (with help and reminders at first – “keep the spoon touching the bottom of the bowl”)
- Learn colors and help pick out fruits for fruit salad – (“Can you get me one green fruit and one red fruit from the bowl?”)
- Tear lettuce for salads.
- Help roll out dough and cut out cookies with cookie cutters
- Sprinkle a set amount of spices, salt, or sugar onto food. If the sprinkling is uneven, start with recipes that will be stirred after the sprinkling!
- Mash potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, avocado, bananas, etc with a fork or potato masher.
- Cut soft foods (butter, boiled eggs, soft fruits, etc.) with a plastic or other child-safe knife.
- Butter bread, spread icing, etc.
- Separate fresh herbs or leafy veggies from the stem
- Pick tomatoes or grapes off the vine
- Hull strawberries, take stems off tomatoes, take peas or beans out of the pod, snap the end off of green beans, etc.
- Husk corn (with some help).
Elementary school age kids:
At this point, they can peel potatoes and other veggies, make salads, and more. Now is a great time to give them some opportunity for creativity (like designing a salad or making a dish look pretty on the plate) or using baking a learning device.
Use baking to really understand fractions! There is a big difference between adding a fraction in a math problem and using fractions in baking. The practical application can help kids learn the concepts more thoroughly.
How to do it:
- Start by showing a child the different sizes of measuring cups and spoons.
- Next, read the amount needed of a particular ingredient and ask them to find the right measuring cup or spoon (or mark on a liquid measuring cup).
- Experiment together -e.g. instead of using a ½ Cup measuring cup, add together two ¼ Cups and see that it’s the same. Add 3 teaspoons to make 1 Tablespoon.
- Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When they are ready, try doubling or halving a recipe together. Ask your child to do the math to get the right measurements.
Use cookie baking to solve problems and learn simple geometry. Once the dough is rolled out, ask your child to try to figure out which placement of cookie cutters gets you the most cookies at once.
- Get them involved with cooking through tiktok and Instagram crazes or inspirations.
- See if they can plan a meal (maybe for a special reward if they are reluctant and that fits with your parenting style), including the grocery list, budget, timing, and cooking. Some teenagers cook once a week for the household. This works especially well for teens who:
- Choose a different diet from the rest of the house, like vegetarian
- Love a particular food and want to get to eat it
- Like a challenge and want to try a fancier or more complicated recipe
- Want to learn now so they can be independent after high school
- Want to help a friend’s family or impress a friend by bringing over something they cooked
A (somewhat similar) comprehensive list of activities by age (mostly for kids, not teens) from the BBC, including recipes to try for each age group. British terms are a little different, but that can be fun for kids to look up too! (Courgette is zucchini and aubergine is eggplant!)
An NPR article on how to engage kids in helping with cooking and other chores in a way that inspires them to want to be involved and helpful throughout their childhood.