8 Tips to Get Kids Involved in the Kitchen – Plus 3 Healthy Recipes to Start!

By Haley Duscha, RDN, CD-N

Cooking together is a great way to get your child interested in healthy eating, and teach them important skills. (Plus, some of the most cherished family traditions revolve around food – see #11 through 14 in this list of 40 Ideas for New Family Traditions!)

Where to start? Haley Duscha, a pediatric dietitian in the Division of Obesity & Weight Management, returns to the blog with advice.

Here’s how to get your child started with cooking.

  1. Invite your child into the kitchen while you cook, so that they become familiar with the kitchen environment. Just move any hazards out of reach first – sharp or heavy utensils, pot handles, hot food, cleaning products – and make sure there will be a clear path if you’re carrying anything hot. Give young kids a wooden spoon or measuring cups to entertain themselves.
  2. If your child is old enough to help, prepare your ingredients on a low table that they can reach, or get them a stepstool so they can stand beside you at the counter.
  3. Designate special tools for your child, like a kid-sized oven mitt, colorful set of mixing bowls, and their own mixing spoon. You can even decorate aprons together.
  4. As you pull out the ingredients you’ll need for your recipe, give your child a taste. Talk about the flavors, colors and textures, both before and after cooking.
  5. Give your child a helping role. See below for age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen, like tearing lettuce, measuring ingredients or being in charge of the kitchen timer.
  6. Try growing your own food – even if it’s just a basil plant on the windowsill – and get your child involved in caring for it.
  7. Once social distancing measures are lifted, bring your child to the farmers market and grocery store, so they can be part of selecting fresh produce and other ingredients that you’ll cook together into healthy meals.
  8. Enlist your child’s help picking out healthy recipes to try as a family. Sometimes having your child pick the recipe can even make them more willing to try new things!

Depending on your child’s age, here are specific tasks to give them.

Keep in mind: When your child is first learning these skills, they’ll need a couple things from you – including your willingness to step back and let them struggle a bit. Here, our pediatric expert breaks down how to teach your child new skills.

  • 3 to 5 year olds: Mix together simple ingredients, wash fruits and vegetables, stir (room temperature) ingredients, snap green beans, tear apart lettuce for salad, squash fruit, press cookie cutters
  • 6 to 7 year olds: Measure ingredients, shuck corn, beat eggs, grease and line a cake tin, peel oranges or hard boiled eggs, set the table
  • 8 to 9 year olds: Use a can opener, peel raw fruits and vegetables, juice citrus fruit, check food temperatures with a thermometer, crack eggs, pound chicken or meat on a cutting board
  • 10 years and older: Slice or chop vegetables, boil potatoes, microwave food, bake foods in the oven, simmer foods on the stove

Now, here are three healthy recipes to get you started. Pick the one that sounds best and can get your child most involved – hint: even young children can help with most steps of the smoothie recipe – and enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fat-free chocolate milk or low-fat chocolate soy milk
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 4 to 6 ice cubes

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or a food processor; blend until smooth.
Recipe by Catherine Hoffmann, MS, RD, at eatright.org.

Broccoli Egg and Cheese Bake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ pound low-fat cheddar cheese
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 pounds nonfat cottage cheese
  • 10 oz frozen, chopped broccoli (thawed)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 dash black pepper
  • 1 dash paprika (optional)
  • 4 oz jar chopped pimento (optional)
  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms, fresh or canned (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients. Spray 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray, place combined ingredients in prepared pan and bake for 90 minutes. Serve hot.

Quinoa Black Bean Crockpot Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 bell peppers
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14-ounce can refried beans
  • 1½ cups red enchilada sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1½ cups shredded pepper jack cheese
  • Toppings: cilantro, avocado, sour cream, etc.

Directions

  • Cut the tops off peppers and scrape out the ribs and seeds.
  • In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, beans, enchilada sauce, spices, and 1 cup of the cheese. Fill each pepper with the quinoa mixture. (You can keep the leftover filling for a day or two in the fridge.)
  • Pour ½ cup water into the bottom of a crockpot, or in the bottom of a pan. Place the peppers in so they’re sitting in the water. If you’re using a crockpot, cover and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours. If you’re using the oven, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove lid or foil, distribute remaining cheese over the tops of the peppers, and cover again for a few minutes to melt the cheese.
  • Serve topped with anything you like! These are also great with chips and guacamole, believe it or not.

Recipe by Pinch of Yum.

Need more ideas for healthy lunches while kids are home during coronavirus school closures? Check out this article from our archive >>

Learn more about the Division of Obesity & Weight Management >>

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