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Kickin’ It With Kids in the Kitchen

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

No matter their age, cooking alongside children helps deepen family bonds while teaching essential skills.

Whether your kids are just old enough to stand on stepstools to “help” in the kitchen or returning from college for winter break, encouraging children to get involved in the kitchen is important for developing fundamental life skills. It’s also a fun way to bond when you find yourself with extra time together. Using the Michigan Apple Retail Dietitian Kit’s age‍-‍to‍-‍skill guidelines, here are simple ideas to get kids involved at any age with produce-packed recipe inspirations.

Ages 3-5: Eager Helpers

Mixing and mashing is the name of the game for this hands-on age group, so get Eager Helpers involved by mashing bananas for muffins or breads; stirring up dried fruit and whole grains for trail mix; or tearing apart leafy lettuce for a dinner salad. Incorporate food safety lessons while working in the kitchen too, such as washing hands before cooking and rinsing fresh produce before preparing it.

Recipe Inspiration: Squeezing, squishing and mashing? Yes, please with Banana Pudding in a Bag.


Ages 5-7: School Age Assistants

Around the first few years of grade school, this age level can do more in the kitchen than you might think. Encourage School Age Assistants to read recipes, measure out ingredients and even chop certain foods using child‍-‍safe knives – starting with softer foods before mastering harder options like carrots and onions. Talk about where ingredients come from and how they’re grown; and encourage them to use all five senses when exploring fruits and vegetables. How does it smell, look, taste, feel and sound?

Recipe Inspiration: Measuring ingredients and chopping veggies makes Hearty Vegetable Soup the perfect recipe to make with kids on a cold night.


Ages 8-12: Up and Coming Cooks

Becoming more independent, Up and Coming Cooks can handle increasingly difficult skills, like cracking eggs, peeling veggies or even following and preparing basic recipes on their own. As children get more confident in the kitchen, it’s important to set rules to keep them safe so they know what is and is not allowed for them to do on their own – like using knives, pulling food from a hot oven or using equipment like blenders or mixers.

Recipe Inspiration: Shredding vegetables and cracking eggs are slightly more complex skills that this age group can handle with Carrot Zucchini Bread.


Ages 13 & Up: Young Chefs

After basic skills have been mastered, Young Chefs can begin refining their culinary skills through more complex recipes. Once an adult feels the child is ready, this age group can generally start using the stovetop; work with traditional knives and operate small appliances, like microwaves and mixers, with limited supervision. Food safety should continue to be stressed upon, such as keeping raw meats away from ready‍-‍to‍-‍eat foods, as well as other important culinary practices, such as mise en place (having all ingredients in order before beginning a recipe) and kitchen clean‍-‍up skills.

Recipe Inspiration: Challenge your chef to create dinner for the family with Sheet Pan Fajitas. For dessert, Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies always do the trick.


Cook Along with Us!

Every month, our team of registered dietitians lead fun and interactive Kids Get Cooking Virtual Events – designed to teach kitchen skills and inspire our smallest chefs. To view upcoming classes and sign up, visit our Get Social page!




A mash and make ahead
option for banana fans.

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Watch Video >>



Add in more nutrition
with a veggie-rich soup.

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A chilly afternoon
snacking bread.

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An easier way to pull your
next fajita fiesta together.

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These traditional sweet
treats get a tart twist.

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Published 12/1/2022