Training Kids to Help in the Kitchen

Training Kids to Help in the Kitchen


Knowing how to prepare real, whole foods is an absolutely necessary life skill that every child should learn. Children who are not taught the basics of food preparation will end up defaulting to processed, packaged foods, simply because they haven’t learned to make anything better.

If we don’t take the time to teach them, how will they ever learn?

I know that having little (dirty, mischievous) hands in the kitchen isn’t always the easiest or most convenient thing. Kids make messes. The put in the wrong ingredients. Things get spilled. Eggs get dropped. You can sweep up more flour when you’re finished than what was actually put into the recipe. It takes longer than if you just did it yourself.

It can also be incredibly rewarding. I’ve been letting both of my oldest children help mama in the kitchen since they were about 1 1/2 years old. Naturally, the “helping” looks different depending on their age and skill, but they love it nonetheless and I know that no matter how small, they are still learning valuable life skills alongside me.


I recently noticed that my 5 year old daughter has grown significantly in her ability to knead bread. She didn’t really get the concept very well up until now and sort of played around with the dough, but today her motions were much smoother and more consistent. I praised her for this, and informed her that pretty soon I was going to be able to just ask her to make the bread for our family, instead of mama having to do it every time. She beamed proudly, and went back to kneading her own little portion of bread dough.

We all have frazzled moments where it’s easier to do it ourselves than to invite our children into the process. I can often be guilty of this, whether it’s because I’m frantically trying to get dinner on the table at 5:57 with a crying baby, or when I’m scrambling to make the house presentable before guests arrive.

My own stress and impatience cause me to undervalue what could be an opportunity to take my child under my wing and let them learn to help me. The results might not be perfect, but I have never regretted the moments when I have slowed down enough to invite them into the things that I am doing.

In what ways are you successfully training your children in cooking and homemaking skills? What are your weak areas?

** This post was originally published February, 2010. As I look back on it, it is both wonderful to see how my children (especially my oldest daughter who is now 6 1/2) have really become more proficient and helpful in the kitchen, and at the same time I am reminded and challenged to purposefully include them even more than I do. **

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  1. This is a great thing to do with your kids – you know, I find that getting on with it and letting them watch and then join in when they are able is a great thing – nothing like imitation and at that age according to Rudolf Steiner, copying you is the most effective way to learn……I try to make absolutely no comments about their work as if they are just as important as me and that what they do is under no scrutiny (not even positive scrutiny) at all……

    ….lovely post…..
    Louisa x
    .-= Louisa´s last blog ..telling the bees =-.

  2. I really commend you for teaching your kids to cook! When I was little, my mom made all home cooked meals. They were fantastic! The only thing is she neglected to TEACH me how to cook. So now I’m learning myself. It’s been a slow process, but I am so proud of how much I have learned so far! Good job to starting young!
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..Is Phantom Electricity Draining your Bank Account? =-.

  3. This brings back memories from my own childhood. My mother made sure we were always helping in the kitchen from a young age. It was a meditative time together sharing this experience. We each had our own day to decide what the family would eat. Mom gave instructions to make sure we included 2 veggies, 1 meat, 1 carb and a dessert. As a child it was so empowering and such a proud moment when the family was eating our meal. Later on as we grew, we then were able to prepare one family meal a week on our own. To this day my brother and I both love to cook. When my niece came along she would stay with me during the day and I started cooking with her at age 3. The happy hummings of food prep in the kitchen still warm my soul. Now each time she comes for a visit we always cook something. Her last creation was a gluten-free crust pizza. Yum!!
    .-= Michele´s last blog ..Nourishing Traditions Class =-.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! It is something I have struggled with but so want to do. My littles are 3 and almost 2, but struggle with not touching everything! I think trying to get most of my dinner (etc) prep done in the morning hours may help with making more time to let them help. I need to let go of neatness too and just be willing to clean up a few more messes.

    Thanks again for the encouragement!

  5. I have a 1 1/2 year old right now. I’ve been having her “help” me in the kitchen for the last several months now. Whenever I’m making muffins or anything, I measure out the ingredients and have her dump them in. Sometimes I guide her hand a bit because her coordination isn’t great. She loves to stir the ingredients. When we stir, I say, “stir, stir, stir” and now she says it too, “dir, dir, dir” In fact, now if I stir anything without her, she gets upset and wants me to pick her up so she can stir too. She’s learned that the stove, oven, and steaming things are hot and tells me, “ot”. It’s so fun to have company in the kitchen and encouraging to hear about how far your daughter has come at only 5 years old.

  6. I am so glad to hear of another mom that takes the time to cook with her kids. A gal I know was talking the other day about kidscooking and make a comment like “What kid knows what a wisk is?”…My almost three year old whispered to me “I do!”
    I can totally relate to being busy and that making it hard to slow down and take the time to cook with them. I am guilty of this more than I care to admit to ! So many times, all hse has to dois ask to stir something and I just let her…she really is a huge help in those moments of crazy right before dinner goes on the table! The best compliment I ever get it when she tells me she wants to be just like me…that tells me that all those little moments really do make a difference!
    .-= Hallie´s last blog ..Kid made dinner =-.

  7. What a great post.
    I think that I have really been lacking lately on letting my little man help me in the kitchen. For a while I feel like I was doing a better job. He likes to help but most times that I am in the kitchen I am so rushed I dont want him to help. I know its sad. His little kitchen is set up in the kitchen so most times when I am doing the dishes he will either help me or do his own dishes.
    I think that today we will make bread and I will have some help from some little hands.

  8. This is such a great post. I’ve found that although it may be a little messier it’s much easier to have the little ones join me in the kitchen. That way I don’t have to constantly stop what I’m doing to check on them/referree/find them something to do, etc.

    One day that sound of chairs scooting across the floor everytime I enter the kitchen will be silent. I’m sure I won’t be thankful for the silence, but missing the time spent with my little ones.
    .-= Holly´s last blog ..Free DiGiornio Pizza coupon by mail =-.

  9. It’s very important for my to have my daughters working with me in the kitchen. When my oldest was too young to help, I had her in a seat on the counter. Once she could stand on her own, I put her on a chair next to me and had her help “pour” things or turn on the mixer stand. Now with both girls (26 mo and 8 mo) the oldest helps while the youngest watches in her seat next to us. I find the most challenging part when my oldest decides to play, wasting not just time but food. Yesterday, I had a long chat with her while making lunch, that ultimately I don’t care if she’s making messes, I care that when I ask her not to, she still does. She’s not obeying. It’s tough, because it’s the one time I don’t really want to deal with parenting issues, and it’s the one time that they seem to come up the most. Haha.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Rolly polly =-.

  10. This is so important. Unfortunately, I think we are raising a generation of kids who think that the drive through is cooking. When I say ‘we’ I don’t mean me or anyone who reads this blog but I think everyone knows what I mean. 🙂

    My daughter is 8 now and I have to say that things are soooo much better now with her in the kitchen- I’m not sure if it’s her age or if she has just learned alot since I started having her help at about 3 or so.

    When starting, I would suggest that you give them age/skill appropriate jobs. It makes life easier for everyone. For example, little ones can put the toppings on the homemade pizza (I can’t tell you how many pizzas we’ve eaten that have all the toppings on one end), if they’re a little older they can grate the cheese, even older can chop the veggies. Kneading is a great thing for the little ones to help with – it’s kind of like play doh!

    They can start setting the table early on also. Although it ‘s not technically cooking it goes hand in hand.

    Thanks for a great post, Stephanie!!
    .-= Debra´s last blog ..‘We didn’t have no internet… =-.

  11. Here is an advantage: as I sit and read your post with a coffee, my 10 yr old daughter is behind me baking cookies, totally on her own, for our afternoon Bible study group:)

  12. My girls are now 15 and 11 and I have been training them in the kitchen for many years now. My son is 8 and also helps out a lot. My 15 year old daughter can manage the kitchen completely on her own, often times making us dinner. I have her responsible for fully planning, cooking, and budgeting one meal a week. My 11 year old just took over the breakfast menu and we are working on managing balanced meals and being prepared the night before. It has definitely paid off and I am so glad I took the time to train them!

  13. Great reminder! I like to use ramikins/ little bowls and pre-measure ingredients so my 5 year old can dump everything in. If I am cutting veggies or fruit he has his own (very blunt) plastic knife to work on a couple of pieces. He usually gets his own little ball of dough to work with (somehow dump trucks get involved at some point!). I also want to try having him start shopping for the ingredients in the recipe from our pantry & fridge. I don’t do all this as much as I would like. Thanks for the encouragement!
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Cardboard Cross =-.

  14. Great Advice. As a mom of triplets plus one more all born w/in a year I wholly support your approach to getting children to help in the kitchen. In fact, one of my 12 year old triplets is making Macaroni & Cheese for dinner for the family tonight. Gives mom more time to work on my blog
    .-= MommyBlogExpert´s last blog ..Build-A-Bear Workshop Recognizing Kids in the Community =-.

  15. Oh, this is so important! I am truly grateful that my parents let us help in the kitchen at an early age. I happened to really take to cooking and could cook a full breakfast (scrambled eggs, canadian bacon, toast, and fruit) and cookies at 7 years old, and by 11 years old, I was planning and preparing dinners for the family. I learned to do the grocery shopping too. This was a huge help to my mother, and now, all that kitchen experience is a huge blessing to my husband. Even my brother, who didn’t spend as much time in the kitchen over the years, is perfectly capable of fending for himself. His skills are better than those of most of the college girls he knows. Sad! (And I’m not necessarily blaming the girls themselves; it’s largely a parenting issue.) I hope to teach my children cooking early on, but I can already see what a challenge it will be. I don’t like cooking with slow people in my kitchen — I’m too impatient and task-oriented — so I’ll need to do some growing first.

    1. @Kathleen, Agreed, we definitely shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it! I don’t think it’s possible to include our kids each and every time. I just know that for me personally, I could (and should) include them more often than I do, and it’s always so worthwhile when I let them join in!

  16. I am really bad about being too busy to let the kids help, but when I do we all really enjoy it. My favorite was making soft pretzels. I had the dough ready to go and they helped me roll them out and shape them. The 4 year old was able to do it with only a little help – it was just like play dough to him! I need to work on doing that more. Also, I love that dump trucks get involved in someone else’s kitchen too!

  17. This is an area with which I struggle, but am determining to do better. During the school year, it is more difficult to make the time, but summer is much easier for us. Just tonight, my nine-year-old asked if she could finish brushing the dinner rolls with melted butter – and I was so glad she was interested in helping!
    .-= Tracey´s last blog ..Birdwatching =-.

  18. I remember my mom not often letting me help in the kitchen, even as a teenager when I could really help! I loved to cook and always wanted to help. I try to involve my daughter (age 2) as much as possible. She loves to help mix, measure, dump stuff in, etc. She “helps” roll meatballs (she scoops bits up, mashes them, and hands them to me, lol) and with lots of other stuff. I want her to know how to cook and she’s really interested so I’m taking advantage of that. I wrote a blog post about that awhile back — teaching kids about chores, starting with taking advantage of their “helpful” behavior when they’re 18 months or so.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Coconut Chocolate Muffins =-.

  19. Love this post! I’m in a challenging season of life right now (adjusting to life as a mom of two…. my youngest is almost 4 months old), so I hardly get time in the kitchen, but whenever the baby is sleeping and I get a few extra minutes, I will let Princess (2 1/2 years) help me out. My favorite thing to have her do is make something special for daddy. We’ll make him cake or cookies to surprise him with when he gets home. She asks me at least once or twice a week, “Can we make cookies for Daddy?”
    Even though she’s not learning to make real food yet, she’s learning how important it is to show Daddy we love him for being the head of the household!

  20. My momma let me help in the kitchen all the time. It helps that I’m the only child. I remember chopping a lot of carrots. I also was a proficient baker. My tea biscuits were the best! Of course, we weren’t using ‘traditional’ food prep and we were soaking our grains, but I learned how to steam veggies and bake a chicken. And when I started cooking for myself – I defaulted to steamed veggies and some sort of baked or broiled meat. And when beginning to learn ‘traditional’ food prep techniques, it was an easy transition because I was already confident in the kitchen and able to follow a recipe. Thanks Momma!!
    .-= gilliebean´s last blog ..Boiled Dinner and Collard Greens =-.

  21. This is something that has been on my heart. Ever since having our second child, I have been bad at this. Before that, my oldest was always involved. Now I am often shoving her out of the way. I just want to get it done…FAST. I need to work on this.

  22. LURVE this. My daughter (3) has been “helping” in the kitchen since she was about 15 months old. She would “rinse” soapy (non-breakable) dishes for me, or “help” me knead the bead. She loves to help me dump ingredients into the mixer, and she is getting really good at kneading her little portion of french bread and rolling it into her own tiny baguette every week. Her brother, 14 months, is almost ready to “help” – just as soon as he stops sticking EVERYthing in his mouth. Heh. Don’t want him to get sick!

    I love having my kids help. Yes, it takes longer…but sometimes, it’s 3 pm and you’ve got nothing planned until Daddy gets home at 6:30…and it’s either a batch of bread together, or three hours of cartoons. Bring on the carbs!

    (Oh, and I bought my daughter the CUTEST little apron when she turned 1. I’ve since learned how to make my own…and think that EVERY “little helper” deserves their own fancy apron. *grin* It’s just not a Cooking Project until everybody’s kitted out with aprons!)
    .-= Aunt LoLo´s last blog ..Chinese New Year, Day 7 – Lion Dance =-.

  23. It’s not just about the cooking skills either! There’s so much learning to be had in the kitchen. It can be another opportunity to practise Numeracy skills, such as weighing, measuring and working out proportions.
    It also makes use of essential Literacy skills such as following and understanding instructions.
    Communication skills, visualising, planning… it’s all there …. even crisis management!

  24. Great post!
    My kids love to ‘help’ in the kitchen and I try to always let them climb up on a chair beside me and at least pass me things, even when they are quite small. From about three my girls were cutting mushrooms (because they are soft and easy) with a butter knife and they’ve progressed from there. Though lately (at 6) they’ve just started seeing ‘helping cook’ as ‘work’ and I’m not sure why… perhaps I need to watch my attitude and modelling of why I cook for my family?

  25. This is such a good reminder for me. I’ve always aspired to get my kids involved in the kitchen, but it seems like mealtime is inevitably so rushed, I just want everybody out from underfoot. My mom always cooked for us, but pretty much never cooked with us, and I’m convinced that that’s the reason that I didn’t trust and pretty much never ate her food. For dinner, I habitually ate bread, cheese and whatever fruit or vege was available until I left home. Then my diet was even worse! It wasn’t until I was about to get married at 25 that I finally taught myself to cook, and although I’m still learning, I have a lot of kitchen confidence that I could share with my boys. I suspect that my mom didn’t invite us to cook with her partly because she wanted it done right, but partly because she didn’t feel like she should be teaching anybody, since nobody had taught her. That can be a difficult mental block to transcend. I need to get started early, before my kids know enough to make me self-conscious!

  26. Great post! It’s funny, our son has been helping Daddy and I around the kitchen since he was about 18 months (he’s 2 1/2 now) but I hadn’t really thought of all the long term benefits of it until reading this post and all the fabulous comments. We just started out of necessity because he wanted to do everything we did, so it was easier to find him a “job” to do than to try and keep him out of the way (but still have an eye on him!). I have always believed that encouraging him now to do little “jobs” will make it easier when we want him do certain “chores”. He too loves to dump and mix ingredients and help with dough; but he is also really great at emptying the dishwasher and setting the table. There was a learning curve, but he knows now exactly what to do and it actually takes one thing off my to-do list!

  27. My daughter has been at the counters with me since she was a baby. I’d pull her up in a high chair and talk to her while I cooked. She has been more and more involved, and now that she’s three, she asks for her “louder” (ladder) every time she sees me at the kitchen counter.

    She shocked a friend the other day when she asked for oatmeal and all I did was pull out the ingredients and she made it herself with oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. The only other help she needed was putting it in the microwave.

  28. Teaching children to cook is essential, and if they learn it from a young age, it will simply be a part of rather than something peripheral to life. We all need to eat, but many Americans just aren’t teaching their children how to feed themselves. Cooking isn’t difficult, unless you’ve never been taught. Teaching children to cook is an investment in their future that will pay dividends for their entire lifetime. Well worth the little time investment needed. It’s never too young to start, as these comments show.

  29. Teaching your children kitchen and cooking safety is important, but it can be boring. One way to spice up an ordinarily dull lesson is to let your children help you prepare a few meals. Children love to help out and cooking can be a fun activity for the whole family J

  30. I could not agree more, the earlier a child begins any positive behaviors the more balanced and well rounded.

  31. I struggle with this a lot! My wish for my children, especially my daughters is to become profiecent in household tasks, especially cooking. Yet I am constantly shooing them out from underfoot or telling them they can do it “when they are older”. I recently had a teenage cousin over who, along with my 11 year old daughter, made dinner for us. I knew the teen had skills, she’s been cooking for a long time (out of necessity, she doesn’t have a mother who is attentive to her children’s needs). The one who surprised me was my own daughter! Even though she was taking a bit of instruction from my cousin, she held her own in that kitchen and together they produced a wonderful, flavorful meal. My girl even seasoned the green beans in such a way that I was envious, mine never taste that good! I guess my point is that kids can do more than what we give them credit for. All they need is the permission to let those skills shine!

  32. Amen! 🙂 I think impatience can hinder so much of our desires to train our children, and am working on taking the time to slow down. Whether it’s correcting wrong behavior or teaching positive behavior, training takes time, and learning takes practice! I usually try to let my 3-yo help me when I bake, but have a hard time knowing how to let him help when I’m mostly chopping and cooking over a hot stove. Sometimes I just give him his own little pot and spoon to play with on the floor. 🙂

  33. My kids have been helping me in the kitchen since they were able to stand on chairs, but we were getting to the point where they both wanted to help and were fighting for space at the counter, so this summer we decided to create a schedule and they each have separate days to cook. They choose the meal that they want to make for their day and then they make the meal (with help from me, of course). They are 3 and 5 and it is working really well. My 5 year old is especially proud that I have let him use the sharp knives.

  34. I think the key is to realize that your task will be a lot slower if you have your kids involved, so plan for that! When I feel rushed, I know I will be less patient with the kids as they want to explore. Too often I just relegate them to setting the table, while I keep the fun (in their eyes) tasks for myself.
    They are so proud of themselves, even at ages 12 and 13, when they make something independently.
    As a playschool teacher, I always had my students DO the task while I hovered near with suggestions ready, instead of doing it for them or just telling them about it. That’s how kids AND adults learn best. We take ownership of things, and have pride in them, if we can put our signature on it, saying: I did this!

  35. I am a firm believer in having kids help throughout the house. I started having my kids help in the kitchen by about the age of 2. Now at 7 my son knows how to make his own tortilla pizza; at 11 my daughter knows how to cook a simple meal and my 13 year old is creating her own recipes.

  36. Okay I so want to do this and to be this kind of mom even though my daughter just turned 2 months old, but I wasn’t allowed to help my mom in the kitchen and even though I’ve been married for 4 years at age 22 I still don’t know much about cooking. Does anyone have an awesome website or something to teach me? So that I can involve my daughter and children to come how to cook? I want to learn to meal plan too. Stephanie, do you think you can do a post about this? Whenever I do find something to cook it ends up being just like meat I don’t ever have sides, desserts, breads. 🙁 I want to learn. Please help. 🙂 Thanks

    1. @Heather,
      heavenly homemakers just released an ebook to do just what you are asking for. Happy cooking. Mom always involved us…not every day but I had basic skills and learrned the rest when I was on my own. Taught three of my friends in college.

  37. I wish I did this so much more. but I am a bit like Heather, I don’t really know how to cook and get nervous in the kitchen, so adding kids into the mix is hard for me!

    I am good with letting them help with baking and setting the table. But that is about it!

  38. Though I have room to grow, I definitely agree with you! I think it goes way beyond the kitchen, though, too. From weeding, cleaning, reading, and giving, to a dozen other ways to strengthen and help the family, we are training our kids in living. They won’t wake up one morning and just know how to do it. It takes training, and it starts in the small places and at a young age. Hard to do sometimes, but so, so important!

  39. I often get my daughter involved with baking. It’s got to the point where she sees me get flour out of the pantry and she pulls up a chair to stand on and help. You’re right that it is messy, but she loves it.

    I wish my mum had involved me in cooking and baking as a girl. I had to learn everything AFTER moving out of home at the age of 18. It’s been fun, but a headstart would have been nice.

  40. My son has been helping me in the kitchen since he was about a year old. It’s wonderful to see the progress he has made so far. When I first had him help, he would place his hand on mine as we poured things into pots or bowls. Now, he gets to put the freshly chopped veggies into the dish, hold the measuring cups on his own, mix doughs or sauces. I know it may be taboo, but I do let him help me mix even the stovetop items, as long as they are not the type of food that will bubble and splash risking a burn.

    For the items that I have to make on my own, he gets his own little set up of bowls and spoons, pots and pans on the floor with a small portion of the ingredients I use. He can mimic me, or come up with his own creation. One of the joys of using fresh whole foods is that if he decides to taste what he is making (which he often does), I don’t have to worry about what he just ate. We have so much fun, and I love watching him progress.

  41. I also started letting my daughter into my kitchen around 1.5 yrs old. A year later, she is in charge of measuring brown sugar for all baked gods recipes. Although it’s messy, I love being able to include her in our baking adventures. She surprised me with her egg cracking ability, once I finally relaxed and let her try it. I have to remind myself that a little extra clean up is worth the quality mother-daughter time together.

  42. I love this: “If we don’t take the time to teach them, how will they ever learn?”

    I’m 30 years old and still feel like I know how to do SO little in the kitchen. (Praise God for google on my laptop at dinner time!) God blessed me with a WONDERFUL, GODLY mother, but we were not allowed in the kitchen (or the laundry room for that matter) as children. I didn’t learn how to do laundry until college and I didn’t learn how to cook in the least until I was in my senior year of college and living off campus.

    Since having children (2 girls!) I have said I want them to grow up learning how to be a homemaker. However, I can see my impatience preventing that–and I can see why my mom ushered us out of the kitchen.

    I definitely think it takes planning–and the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives!–to train our little ones!

    Thanks for this challenge and reminder!

  43. I love that my kids know how to cook! At least as much as they can. 🙂 My 3.5 YO daughter has been helping preserve this year. If I slice fruit, she can put it neatly on a tray and help carry the trays to and from the freezer. She can help carefully pour kombucha into bottles. She watches me stir breads and muffins and sometimes stirs herself or helps by adding ingredients I’ve measured. She knows I make “soup” by putting bones in a pot with water. She is constantly asking questions about “good food” vs. “junk food” and knows that we can make certain things at home with good food that we can’t buy. She also accompanies me in the garden this year and can recognize many fruit and vegetables and the plants they grow on, and helps me pick them and bring them in and do what we need to do. She was recently looking at pictures of food and didn’t recognize most of the cereals or other commercial foods; she picked out all the fruits and vegetables. I just LOVE that she is learning (and my 2-year-old is starting to as well) about true healthy food!

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