At all ages:
Kids are more likely to eat healthy meals and vegetables when they are involved in the processes of growing and preparing food.1,2 They feel invested and want to try the fruits of their labors! Furthermore, eating meals together (even a few times a week) can help kids learn social skills and supports listening, communication, and responsibility. Eating meals together has also been associated with improved wellbeing and mental health in adolescents, improved health outcomes, school performance, less harm from social media use, and fewer behavioral issues; however, causal associations have not been established. 3,4,5,6,7
From 0 to 2 Years…
I want to be with you, watch, and learn. I can:
- Become familiar with items that are located in the kitchen.
- Play with wooden spoons, spatulas, measuring spoons, and other non-breakable objects to explore with hands and mouth.
- Explore a variety of foods with my newfound senses. I like to touch, see, smell, and taste (once solids are introduced).
- Play identification games or hide-and-find with foods, utensils, and more.
From 2 to 3 Years…
I’m ready to help while I learn more about the world around me! (With gentle instruction and supervision - expect messes). I can:
- Count and identify colors, foods, and equipment.
- Learn about basic kitchen safety.
- Continue to try new foods.
- Learn where foods come from and how they grow.
- Help with shopping, gardening, picking at you-pick farms.
- Gather ingredients, bowls, and utensils.
- Pour ingredients into bowls.
- Rinse produce.
- Use a salad spinner.
- Scrub veggies.
- Tear greens.
- Stir (may need assistance).
- Mash and shake.
- Sprinkle salt or spices.
- Put things in the trash.
- Help with easy clean up (hold dustpan, put silverware in dishwasher).
From 4 to 5 Years Old…
I’m honing my fine motor skills, getting curious about where food comes from, and learning basic math! I can:
- Create menus.
- Choose a few foods at the market.
- Cut soft foods with a child-safe plastic knife.
- Roll and knead dough.
- Pour batter.
- Juice citrus.
- Crack eggs.
- Peel fruits and boiled eggs.
- Measure and level ingredients.
- Spread butter.
- Set the timer.
- Set the table.
- Rinse dishes.
- Wipe counters.
- Fill dishwasher soap tray.
From 6 to 10 Years Old…
I want to learn more about recipes, cooking techniques, and equipment! I can:
- Read recipes and create new recipes.
- Create menus and meal plans.
- Learning about balanced meals.
- Learn about flavors and seasonings.
- Try cooking projects.
- Explore new cuisines.
- Use a small paring knife.
- Cook with you at the stove.
- Use small kitchen tools (garlic press, microplane, can opener).
- Peel fruits and vegetables.
- Grate cheese.
- Slice soft foods.
- Form patties and cookies.
- Use a hand or stand mixer.
- Grease baking pans.
- Scoop batter.
- Scrape down a mixing bowl.
- Help put groceries away.
- Serving and ladle food.
- Load and unload the dishwasher or wash dishes by hand.
If your child loves to cook, you may consider exploring culinary camp programs and junior chef competitions in your area!
1 van der Horst K, Ferrage A, Rytz A. Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake. Appetite. 2014;79:18-24. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.03.030
2 Kim SO, Park SA. Garden-Based Integrated Intervention for Improving Children's Eating Behavior for Vegetables. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(4):1257. Published 2020 Feb 15. doi:10.3390/ijerph17041257
3 Elgar FJ, Craig W, Trites SJ. Family dinners, communication, and mental health in Canadian adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2013;52(4):433-438. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.07.012
4 Middleton G, Golley R, Patterson K, Le Moal F, Coveney J. What can families gain from the family meal? A mixed-papers systematic review. Appetite. 2020;153:104725. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2020.104725
5 Jagtiani MR, Kelly Y, Fancourt D, Shelton N, Scholes S. #StateOfMind: Family Meal Frequency Moderates the Association Between Time on Social Networking Sites and Well-Being Among U.K. Young Adults. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2019;22(12):753-760. doi:10.1089/cyber.2019.0338
6 Brown JE. Nutrition through the Life Cycle. Boston, MA: Cengage; 2019.
7 Cook, E. & Dunifon, R. (2012 ). Parenting In Context. Family Meals Really Make a Difference? Cornell University. College of Human Ecology.Department of Policy Analysis and Management. Retrieved from: https://coursebeyond.com/media/institute/9/course/69/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf