Cooking with your Young Child



Cooking can be FUN for children but remember that play is a child's work and his/her way of learning about the world. Just what can a child LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD from food and cooking?


Patience — As she goes through a series of tasks or waits for something to bake, cool, etc., she learns to be patient.

Sense of Timing — As he waits 15 minutes for something to bake, he begins to develop a vague understanding of time.

Coordination— Stirring, peeling, pouring, etc. gives a child a chance to develophis/her fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination.

Responsibility — Helping with a necessary task helps a child learn that he/she can contribute to the "good" of the family.

Cooperation — Taking turns, sharing equipment, etc. helps prepare your child for working in groups and teams in the future.

Pre-Math and Science Skills including . . .

  • Classification — “Which of these foods are red? (sorting by color is one of the first ways children learn to classify) “Which of these white foods (milk, potatoes, bread) is a vegetable?" Sorting by color is one of the first ways children learn to classify.
  • Sequencing — Following a step-by-step recipe and learning to do things in order.  Asking questions such as, “What must we do with the apples before we can bake them?” helps a child understand the concept of before and after. 
  • Counting Including Introduction to Fractions — “How many pieces of fruit are in the bowl? How many apples do you see? What will happen if I cut this apple in half?”
  • Shapes/Size — “Which is bigger, an apple or grape? Name the round foods on your plate.”
  • Prediction — “What do you think will happen when you add chocolate syrup to the white milk? How many grapes would fit in this container?” 
  • Observation — "Did you notice the change in the biscuits after they baked?”
  • Comparison and Contrast — Hold up two apples of different colors and ask, “How are these 2 apples different? How are they the same?”
  • Nutrition —Talk about Choose My Plate nutritional guide and the types of food in each category.

Memory Development “Could you please tell Grandma what you did to make this sandwich?”

Communication — Learning to follow directions, discussing and talking about food helps a child learn word  

          meanings, sentence structure and the flow of language. Talking with your child and engaging him/her in

          conversation helps develop a pattern for conversation in the future.

Pride in a job well done/ Sense of Accomplishment — Learning to complete a task well is a necessary skill and when

           better to learn it! Be sure to match the task with your child's age. Examples of a child's capabilities by age:

  • Age 1 & 2:
    • Stirring
    • Shaking
    • Toss salad
    • Wipe his/her place setting
    • Throw away trash
    • Add napkins to a table setting
  • Age 2-3:
    • Put toast in toasterPour from a small, lightweight pitcher
    • Arrange food on a plate
    • Peel bananas if the top is cut
    • Cut banana with a butter/kitchen knife
    • Open packages
    • Roll or pat out dough
    • Spread butter or mayonnaise for  sandwiches
    • Shape burgers or meatballs (for sanitation purposes, child could wear plastic bags on hands as they complete this task)



Here are some ideas of how to adapt those tasks to everyday menus:


Easy Breakfast

Quick Cinnamon Rolls

Fizzy Fruit Cups


Quick Cinnamon Rolls


1 package refrigerated biscuits (in a tube)

3 tablespoon melted butter or margarine

⅓ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Fizzy Fruit Cup


½ cup chopped orange

½ cup chopped apple

½ cup sliced banana

½ cup sliced strawberries
(or any other combination of fruits of your choosing)

12 oz. (cold) lemon/lime soda

Parent Tasks: Assemble ingredients. Melt margarine in microwave on high for about 1 minute in a shallow bowl. Cool slightly. Cut separated biscuits in half for smaller rolls, if desired. Get out a microwavable ring mold or assemble one by inverting a custard cup in the center of a round glass cake pan or pie plate. Bake assembled rolls about 10 min. in microwave. Remove and allow to cool slightly for ease in eating and to finish cooking.


Child's Tasks: Separate biscuits. Measure ⅓ cup sugar into a shallow bowl; add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and stir with a spoon until thoroughly mixed. Dip biscuits into melted margarine & then into cinnamon sugar, coating both sides. Arrange in a ring mold.

Parent Tasks: Assembly ingredients. Chop and prepare fruits but only cut the top off the banana.


Child's Tasks: Peel banana. Cut into slices using a table or butter knife. Combine all prepared fruits into a mixing bowl. Stir gently. Spoon into serving bowls. Pour a small amount of lemon/lime soda over each bowl.

Food Guide Nutritional Contributions: Grain & Fruit

Topics to discuss as you work: How do the biscuits change after going into the microwave? Why could you stir the cinnamon & sugar quickly but had to stir the fruit gently? How do fruits feel—soft, hard, crunchy, etc.? How do they taste? What colors do you see in this meal?


Tortilla Roll-Ups
Veggies & Dip


Tortilla Roll-Ups


Small flour tortillas

Sliced sandwich meat (thin)

Sliced cheese

Mayonnaise or mustard (or even softened cream cheese)

Head of lettuce

Veggies & Dip


Assorted prepared vegetables

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup ketchup

1 teaspoon dry dill weed

Parent Tasks: Assemble ingredients & supplies.


Child's Tasks: Tear lettuce leaves from the head. Gently wash with water and dry. Using a table or butter knife, spread mayonnaise or mustard on the tortilla. Place a piece of meat, cheese and lettuce leaf on tortilla. Roll up the tortilla.

Parent Tasks: Assemble & prepare vegetables. Assembly ingredients & supplies for dip.


Child's Tasks: Measure ingredients for dip into a mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly. Pour into a serving bowl.

Food Guide Nutritional Contributions: Bread, Vegetables, Dairy & Meat

Topics to discuss as you work: What is the bread in this meal? Can you name all the vegetables in this meal? What vegetables are crisp? Which are soft? What are other vegetables we might have used on our vegetable tray? Which food in the sandwich was made from milk? What other foods contain milk? What kind of meat did we use on this sandwich? What are other types of meat? What happened to the red catsup when it was mixed with the mayonnaise? Do you see anything round in this meal? What are other shapes you see?


Another consideration — while young children may be interested in filling the irown ice cream cone with pudding but (in most cases) would be overwhelmed with filling enough to use the entire batch of pudding. Most importantly, let common sense and the reactions of your child guide you when determining what he or she can do to help.


Websites with recipes to prepare with your kids:

The Idea Box

Quaker Oats Kids in the Kitchen

Disney Family—Getting Kids Involved

Cooking with Kids 

Kids-a-Cooking (KSU)


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