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5 Simple Ways Children Can Help In The Kitchen

Updated on May 6, 2015

Helping Hands

Many hands make light work.

We can often use an extra hand, but let's be honest, enlisting young children to be our helpers is not about saving time, or lightening our load. The purpose of inviting our children to "help" is to help them learn responsibility and valuable life skills.

The kitchen is often the heart of the home. Invite your children to daily share in all the various activities that occur in the kitchen. Learning how to safely handle food, kitchen utensils, and appliances, is essential in keeping your children healthy and safe.

Of course, tasks need to be age appropriate. A three-year-old should not slice tomatoes for the salad, but they can tear lettuce like the best of them!

So don't pass up all the teachable moments afforded in the kitchen. Before you know it, your little one will have grown enough to genuinely be the extra hands needed to make light work!

Including Children In The Kitchen

1. Mix And Mash

Preschool aged children can help with several aspects of food preparation. Their motor skills are developed enough to stir, mix and mash, but the chances of splattering is rather high. For this reason, your preschool aged child should always work away from any heat source, including hot food. For instance, a three-year-old can safely mash ripe bananas for banana bread, but not mash hot potatoes.

Since children develop at various rates, it is hard to state an exact age at which children may work around heat. As the parent, you are the best judge of when your child's motor skills and judgment have developed sufficiently to work supervised at the stovetop or handle hot foods. By the time a child is between 8 and 11, they should be able to stir things on the stovetop, such as oatmeal, or work with hot foods, such as mashing potatoes.

If your child enjoys playdough, then make sure to include them in your next baking project. Most preschool aged children can work with cookie dough. Rolling and shaping cookies is a great way to include a younger child, as long as the portion of dough is small. Young children can also help roll out and cut biscuit and cookie dough. As soon as they have the upper body strength, your child can help mix and knead bread dough.

2. Wash And Toss

Children as young as two can wash fruits and veggies. To ensure that freshly cleaned produce doesn't end up dropped in the sink, or worse yet, down the garbage disposal, have your child rinse fruits and veggies over a strainer. Simply ask them to place each clean piece in the strainer after they've cleaned it. This will help ensure that the produce stays clean, as well as allowing it to dry and drain until it is needed.

Young children can also tear lettuce and greens for a salad or stir fry. If making a tossed salad, young children can also help mix the ingredients with clean hands.

3. Slice And Dice

Every kitchen has knives, both blunt and sharp, and children need to learn how to handle them.

Young children can begin to learn about knife safety while learning to use a blunt knife. Preschool aged children can learn to spread peanut butter and jelly with a blunt knife. They can also slice bananas for cereal on their own. While working with the blunt knife, be sure to instruct them in basic safety. Remind them that you only grab a knife by it's handle, and you never cut anything while holding it in your hand. Practicing these rules with a blunt knife will help them safely graduate to a sharp knife.

Again, you are the best judge of when your child will be able to handle a sharp knife. Be sure that when they begin to learn knife skills that they are use a knife that is small and easy for them to handle. Initially, choose foods that are easier to slice or chop. For instance, start by having your child slice zucchini to develop some familiarity with the knife before asking them to slice carrots.

Knife Safety For Children

4. Set And Clear

Of course, the goal of cooking is to eat! By the age of 5, most children can help set the table. This means that while you are putting the finishing touches on a family meal, your child can still be involved and the table will be ready before the food gets cold.

After a meal, preschool aged children can clear their own plate from the table. They are also capable of scraping their plate over the kitchen trash in preparation of washing. By age 5, most children are capable of clearing the entire table, placing any leftover food on the kitchen countertop for an adult or older child to store.

5. Wash And Dry

Not only can children help dirty up those pots and pans, they can be helpful with the cleanup as well.

With supervision, young children can scrape and rinse dishes in preparation of either hand washing or loading the dishwasher. By age 5-7, children should be able to dry dishes and unload the dishwasher. By age 9-10, children should be able to wash dishes by hand and load the dishwasher. Be sure to set sharp knives aside so they do not get lost in dishwater.

For their own health and safety, children need to understand the importance of a clean kitchen. Young children can wipe of countertops and appliances. They can also help wipe off sticky fingerprints from the kitchen table and chairs. Older children can also help disinfect the kitchen sink and any cutting boards that may have been contaminated.

Including Children In The Kitchen Whets Their Appetite

Children are more interested in the foods you serve when they have been involved in the preparation. Having your child work with you in the kitchen helps them better understand what is in their food and affords them the opportunity to taste things along the way.

Not only will your child be more interested in their food, they will be more interested in preparing foods for themselves, leading them to be more self sufficient. Encouraging young children to learn in the kitchen means that by the time they start elementary school, they can assemble their own lunch. Most children between the ages of 5-7 can easily make their own sandwich and wash fruits and veggies for the sack lunches. Again, if your child makes a sandwich choice and prepares their lunch, they are much more likely to eat it at lunch time.

So capitalize on all those teachable moments that occur everyday as you are preparing meals and baking those extra treats. Make family meals a real family event by inviting your children to cook and clean with you. Eat up all the time you have with your child now, because before you know it, your little one will be big enough to do it all on their own!

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    • Cyndi Gibson profile image

      Cyndi Gibson 2 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thank you for taking the time to drop by. Writing this reminded me how much I enjoyed having my kids in the kitchen with me. Now that they are older, they make their own food and run out the door!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      A great look at the importance of getting kids busy in the kitchen with great how-to tips for getting started with them.