This article was originally published in May 2020 and updated in December 2023 for relevance.
Cooking together is a great way to get your child interested in healthy eating, and teach them important skills.
Where to start? Haley Duscha, a pediatric dietitian in the Division of Obesity & Weight Management, shares advice.
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Here’s how to get your child started with cooking.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Give your child a taste as you pull out the ingredients you’ll need for your recipe. Talk about the flavors, colors and textures, both before and after cooking.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bring your child to the farmers' market or grocery store, so they can be part of selecting fresh produce and other ingredients that you’ll cook together into healthy meals.
- 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!
Here are specific cooking tips, by child's age.
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