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It's worth the mess. It's worth the extra patience that it can take to wait for your young child to scoop or stir at their own pace. It's worth it to cook with your kids. I just adore those moments when I step back and watch my kids stare into the oven door watching their pizza bake. I can just hear my daughter saying, "The crust is getting bigger, Mommy." She sees the science. She knows yeast makes gas bubbles that help the crust get bigger. She's 3. No, everything doesn't have to be homemade, and I understand that sometimes it just isn't practical to involve the kids in every meal, but they can still contribute and take some responsibility.

Try to involve your kids in some part of the meal preparation even at an early age. This is so important for many reasons, but one of the best reasons is because it's fun for everyone. Yes, sometimes I have to remind myself that my daughter is only 3, and she hasn't quite figured out how to stir without spilling or tasting the food, but she is learning. She is learning that cooking is fun, and you get to eat it when you're finished! She is learning that we can't eat batter with raw eggs. She knows that pizza dough is sticky, but fun to play with. She knows she has to let her little brother have a turn. That lesson is a hard one. One more great reason to let your kids help cook is that children like to try the foods they help make.

When you let a child help in the kitchen, you teach them skills that they can use throughout their lives. A child that helps in the kitchen:

  • Tries and likes more foods
  • Gains confidence, feels important and proud
  • Learns math and science concepts
  • Develops fine motor skills
  • Learns new vocabulary
  • Learns responsibility with clean up

For all children (and adults), start by washing your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. If you're not sure what tasks are age appropriate for your young child, here are some ideas to get you started:

Age 2

Age 3

Age 4

Age 5

Wipe Tables All that a 2 year old can do All that a 3 year old can do All that a 4 year old can do
Hand items to adult to put away (after grocery shopping for example) Add ingredients; help assemble pizza Peel eggs and some fruits such as oranges and bananas Measure liquids
Place things in trash Talk about cooking Set the tables Cut soft fruits
Tear lettuce or greens Scoop or mash potatoes Crack eggs Use an egg beater
Help "read" a cookbook by turning the pages Squeeze citrus fruits Help measure dry ingredients  
Make "faces" out of pieces of fruit or vegetables Stir pancake batter Help make sandwiches and tossed salads  
Rinse fruits and vegetables Knead and shape dough    
Snap green beans Name and count foods    


Audra Losey MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Audra Losey is a wife and mom of two young children. She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in Community Nutrition and Health Promotion and dual bachelor degrees in Exercise Science and Dietetics. Audra is employed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Education Program teaching limited resource families in Douglas and Sarpy counties about healthy eating on a budget. She's especially interested in teaching kids about food and physical activity, and connect ...

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Categories: nutrition, parenting,