Kids in the Kitchen - A User's Guide to Encouraging a Junior Chef PLUS Gift Ideas for the Aspiring Young Cook!

Kids in the Kitchen - A User's Guide to Encouraging a Junior Chef PLUS Gift Ideas for the Aspiring Young Cook!

Kids in the Kitchen - A User's Guide to Encouraging a Junior Chef PLUS Gift Ideas for the Aspiring Young Cook!

"When we teach, we love." Bill Snyder

Let’s face it. Cooking is fun. Not for all of us but for many of our time in the kitchen is a pseudo Zen moment from the imagineering (to borrow from Disney) the meal to prep and execution to the cleanup and overview of your again-clean kitchen space. For those of us who enjoy the cook-space as a solitary moment we can take this time to include those who want to explore cooking but lack the experience or even the confidence to try. Cooking can be a fun activity for all ages, and even the littlest toddlers can join in. Welcome your preschooler into the kitchen with these simple tasks that will help turn cooking into a lifelong hobby.


Encouraging help in the kitchen with daily meal prep, even from a young age, can be that spark that ignites the imagination and passion of a burgeoning chef. It is also a wonderful way to teach young people about healthy eating, portioning and nutrition. Working hands-on with children in the kitchen allows them to understand nutritional facts, calculate portion sizes and experiment with new foods. It is imperative that young eaters are not only given the choice of chicken nuggets or pizza bites for dinner but that they learn the value of well-balanced and varied meals.

A child who gets to clean food, mix ingredients as well as taste and sample their way through the kitchen will also learn to appreciate the effort and work that their parents put into their daily meals. Appreciation of one’s family efforts to feed, clothe and house them makes for an adult whose values are rooted in humility and graciousness. Simple activities and the inclusion of our children in the daily home and kitchen work is essential from a young age. When we include them in our housework, we also make them feel loved and give them a sense of a purpose driven life.


These activities also give young children a chance to fine-tune motor skills and begin to have a bit more responsibility. So, the next time your littlest gourmand asks, “Can I help?” while you’re cooking, assign him one of these simple, safe jobs.


Picking herbs off their stems. Making a pasta sauce or a marinade? Give sprigs of herbs to your toddler and ask her to pull off the leaves. This herb-stripping tool makes the job even more fun. The leaves can then go in a small container for safekeeping.

Shucking corn. Head outside and set up your toddler with a paper grocery bag or an open trash. Toddlers can help peel off husks or, if they don’t quite have the strength for that task, let them pull off the corn silks. (Outdoors, no need to worry about the mess.)


Working with fruit. Toddlers can pitch in on fruit prep with these fun tools and a bit of assistance from a grown-up. Cherry pie on the dessert menu? Let littles help load up the cherry pitter and press down to push out the pits (make sure fingers are well clear first). Kids can serve up soft mango with the scoop side of this mango slicer and scoop. And though youngsters will likely need help positioning and holding a strawberry huller, they’ll enjoy easing out the cores from fresh strawberries or tomatoes.

Using a salad spinner. When I was little, my mom’s salad spinner ranked high among my favorite toys. Revving it up, watching it spin, making it stop suddenly…and getting to do it all again? Joy, pure and simple. My youngest daughter feels the same way now. Fun fact about this salad spinner: The pump-activated design was inspired by a retro kids’ toy.


Tearing up lettuce for salads. Give your children a salad bowl and let them tear up greens into bite-sized pieces. Watch their delight when they realize ripping up things is the goal.


Washing produce. Move a secure footstool or chair in front of the sink, so your toddler can help wash and scrub dirt from fruits and vegetables: cucumbers, mangoes, potatoes, squash, anything that won’t bruise too easily if dropped. Fill the sink slightly with cool water instead of leaving the tap running, to prevent too-hot temperature dangers or faucets blasting at full strength.


Helping set the table. Give kids specific tasks, like folding or putting out napkins, laying down place mats or setting out non-sharp utensils like butter knives and spoons. This activity also lets preschoolers practice sorting like objects together.


Clearing the table and doing the dishes. Allowing children to run back to their video games after dinner might seem like the easy way to end a meal but can do irreparable harm. Not only are video games proven to be destructive in excess, but the work of dinner is also not over when the last bite has been devoured. Including them in the cleanup of dinner and dishes allows them to see the task of the dinner event through to the end. Older children can help with the dishes and loading them in the washer while the younger pull dishes from the table.

Cooking With Toddlers

Pouring and adding ingredients. Your toddler will love to add cups or spoonfuls and pour liquids into cooking pots and mixing bowls, or dump ingredients into blenders if you’re making a fruit smoothie.


Stirring and whisking. With a smaller-size spoon or a silicone whisk, your child can help when you’re mixing up batters—like for these kid-friendly banana muffins—by beating eggs or stirring sauces. If you have more than one young helper, assign each a certain number of stirs.


Mashing. One easy way to start cooking with preschoolers is to let them use a food masher or even their (clean) hands to mash up foods like bananas, potatoes or avocados.


Sprinkling ingredients. Let youngsters sprinkle cheese, herbs, seeds or nuts and add a “pinch” of salt or pepper to salads, pastas and more.


Kneading and rolling out dough. A kid-sized rolling pin is handy here; it’s lighter and easier for small hands to manage. In a pinch, a small can works, too.


Cutting cookies or sandwich bread into shapes. When cooking lunch with your preschooler, sandwiches cut into cute shapes add a side of fun. Layer toppings onto soft bread first, then cut with a cookie cutter. (Toddlers may need help pressing all the way down.)


Cutting soft foods with a non-sharp knife. Littles can practice slicing safely (and work on their fine motor skills) with a butter or other kid-safe knife and foods such as avocados, bananas, ripe mango, peaches and watermelon.


Brushing butter or oil onto dough. For a fun, creative cooking activity for toddlers, hand over a silicone pastry brush and let your little Michelangelo go to work on bread dough or pie crusts.


Tasting. Taste testing is a delicious chance to teach kids about different flavors and how they affect a dish. Your toddlers may even surprise you by trying things they’ve turned their nose up at before.