Involving kids in meal planning and teaching them to cook can be a fun way to spend quality time as a family. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce children to new skills and new foods.

“Cooking is wonderful for developing a little brain,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “It allows them to engage their senses—not just taste, but also sight, smell and touch.”

Lessons learned in the kitchen
Being involved in meal preparation can be beneficial to kids in several ways, including:

  • Helping them practice math concepts, such as counting, measurements and fractions.
  • Providing an opportunity to practice new vocabulary as you describe how food looks, feels and tastes.
  • Following a recipe from start to finish shows children the importance of planning, following instructions and completing projects.
  • Encouraging them to try new foods that they’ve had a hand in preparing.

Dr. Bradshaw says, “If you have a picky feeder, involve your child in going with you to the grocery store, choosing the food and bringing it home. When it comes time to cook, have your child do tasks, like preparing the ingredients and stirring the pot. That may really help a picky eater be more open to trying something they’ve never tried before because they helped cook it.”

Cooking together as a family also provides opportunities for parents and kids to talk, she says.

“When you’re just having a naturally flowing conversation, topics may just come up that your child didn’t bring up before. Being in the kitchen together is just a natural, nonconfrontational setting to really be able to talk about things and do that in a relaxed and fun way.”

Choose the right time and tasks
If you’re going to have kids helping you in the kitchen, do it at a time when you are not rushed, and you have the time and patience to work with them and give instruction.

Consider your child’s age when assigning a task. A young child (4-8 years) can stir, measure, crack eggs and cut soft things with a butter knife. Tasks that involve sharp tools and hot ovens are better handled by older children. No matter what your child’s age, always supervise them to ensure safety.

Lower your expectations
Cooking with kids can be messy and things may not go according to plan. That’s OK. If something goes wrong, allow your child to try again. They’ll get it eventually and learn from the experience. And be sure to compliment your young chef on a job well done. Praise makes kids feel appreciated and empowered to try new things.