1. Toddlers
  2. Nutrition & fitness
  3. Mealtime

Cooking with kids and teenagers

1-18 years

In most households, the kitchen is where the action is. Cooking with kids and teenagers and sharing your kitchen with them encourages their interest in food. It’s also a fun way to encourage healthy eating habits and skills for life.

Benefits of cooking with kids

Cooking with kids – from toddlers to teenagers – has a lot of benefits.

As well as being fun, cooking with your child:

  • gives you the chance to introduce him to fresh, healthy food
  • helps him learn about what different foods look like and where they come from
  • helps him develop healthy eating habits because he’s more likely to try healthy food that he has helped to cook
  • prepares him for cooking for himself or the family in later years
  • helps build his maths skills – for example, when he measures liquid in a jug
  • helps build his vocabulary – for example, when you read a recipe together.

It’s also a great way to spend more time with your child and share the responsibility of cooking.

Video

Cooking together: children making pancakes

3:27

The children in this video learn a lot as they cook together. One reads the recipe while the others measure and calculate ingredients. Cooking a simple recipe lets children work together to make decisions about food and gives them confidence as they experience kitchen success.

Cooking with toddlers

Almost everything that involves a toddler involves time and patience. So it’s a good idea to choose short and simple cooking tasks that match your toddler’s skills and attention span.

For example, your toddler could help out with:

  • washing fruit and vegies
  • getting things from the fridge
  • handing over utensils
  • stirring cake mixes or tossing salads.

Simple recipes like pita bread pizza, fruit salad and green salad are good because they’re simple to prepare, don’t take long to make, and involve lots of interesting colours and textures.

When your toddler loses interest or gets tired of cooking, it’s a good idea to focus on praising and thanking your toddler for helping, rather than expecting perfection. 

Cooking with preschoolers

With preschoolers, you can talk about which foods are healthy and why.

This is also a good age to introduce recipes that involve ‘building’. This could include layering toppings on a sandwich for lunch or spooning yoghurt, cereal and fruit into a glass to make a tasty and healthy dessert.

You could try making some of the following:

  • homemade dips like tzatziki or hommus
  • fruit salad with yoghurt
  • healthy muffins – let your child add raisins, chopped fruit, mashed banana, cooked pumpkin or grated carrot and mix it all together
  • roasted vegetables – let your child help out with counting, peeling and chopping (depending on your child’s age) the vegies you need for dinner
  • mashed potatoes – let your child have a go with the masher, and mix the potatoes with yoghurt and herbs or another vegetable like carrots.

Cooking also helps preschoolers learn about washing vegetables and fruit, as well as some measuring and counting basics. They might learn some new words too, like ‘grate’, ‘mash’ and ‘delicious’!

And preschoolers are old enough to help with things like setting the table, serving food and cleaning up after meals.

Cooking with school-age children

Your school-age child will probably love helping in the kitchen and making menu suggestions.

This is also a good age to involve your child in choosing fruit, vegies, meat, beans and other foods for mealtimes. You can teach your child about which fruits and vegies are in season.

At this age, your child can help to choose and pack her own healthy lunch box.

When you include your child in choosing and preparing food like this, he’s more likely to eat the food you’ve made together.

You and your child can now try more complex kitchen creations like:

  • fried rice
  • vegetable or chicken stir-fry
  • soup
  • gnocchi and pasta – with or without a pasta machine
  • homemade muesli with nuts and seeds
  • pancakes or pikelets.

Your child can help do the dishes and clean the table now.

You’ll still need to help your child with any tasks that involve the oven, hotplates or hot liquids, and supervise carefully if she’s using sharp knives or other utensils.

Video

Cooking together: tzatziki

2:57

Cooking with kids is a fun way to learn about healthy food and help child development. This family makes tzatziki. Mum guides the children through reading a recipe, using cutlery, counting and measuring. There’s hands-on action as they stir, peel, scrape – and eat the yummy dip!

Cooking with teenagers

As your child gets older, he can become a lot more independent in the kitchen.

At this age, your child can test out some creative recipes and start learning about how to budget in the kitchen. For example, you could try asking your child to cook a meal using the leftovers in the fridge and pantry, or to plan a low-cost family meal.

Some recipes your child could try include:

  • crunchy chicken fingers
  • roast chicken, lamb, beef and vegies, with a choice of spices
  • soups – for example, pumpkin, minestrone, lentil or leek and potato
  • fish, meat or vegetable curries and casseroles.

Younger teenagers still need supervision in the kitchen, especially around the oven, hotplates and other appliances.

Kitchens can be dangerous places for kids of all ages. Knives, electrical appliances and hot stoves are all hazards. So too is carrying a pot of hot water to the sink when there’s a small person nearby. Some safety ground rules that are appropriate for your child’s skills and understanding will help to make your kitchen safe.

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Last updated or reviewed
28-04-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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