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Parenting -- Cooking activities for kids: 3-6 years

Key points

  • Cooking helps kids learn skills. It’s also a great way to spend time with your child.

  • For cooking with kids, you need simple recipes, ingredients and equipment – plus time!

  • When you’re cooking with your child, let your child do as much as possible.

Cooking activities for kids: why they’re good

Cooking with kids is about so much more than preparing food.

For example, cooking can:

  • help your child learn early numeracy skills through measuring or counting

  • help your child develop literacy skills through reading recipes

  • be special time with you, which is good for your relationship with your child

  • be creative, hands on, messy and fun!

Sitting down with your family and sharing a meal that you’ve prepared together is also a great way for your child to develop social skills like sharing, talking and listening.

What you need for cooking activities with kids

It’s good to give your child a choice about what to cook, but it’s also important to make sure the recipe is simple enough, or you’ll end up doing it all yourself while your child watches.

You might know a simple dish that you could make with your child. Perhaps it’s something your child likes to eat, like a favourite meal or dessert. Otherwise, look online for child-friendly recipes, or at your library or bookshop for cookbooks for children.

Once you’ve decided what to cook, check that you have all the ingredients and equipment you need, plus a clear workspace.

You also need plenty of time. Your child is likely to mix and measure very slowly, and you might need to clear up spills as you go. Your child will probably want to taste all the ingredients too!

* Kitchens can be dangerous places for children. Always supervise your child around hot surfaces, hot liquids, electrical appliances and sharp objects.

How to cook with kids

  • Talk about the dish before you start. Show your child the ingredients and the recipe, if you’re using one.

  • Let your child do as much as possible. Your child could wash vegetables and fruit, pour and stir, and help with measuring and counting. Your child could even try some easy cutting under careful supervision – for example, cutting soft fruit with a butter knife. You might need to show your child what to do first, then let your child try.

  • Talk about what you’re doing, and introduce words like ‘grate’ and ‘mash’. You can also encourage your child to come up with words to describe flavours and textures, like ‘salty’, ‘crumbly’ or ‘crunchy’.

  • Talk about which foods are healthy and why.

  • Let your child share their dish with friends or family. Praise your child’s cooking and hard work!

Adapting cooking activities for kids of different ages

A simple green salad is a good first dish for your younger child. Help your child wash the leaves and herbs, then let your child tear them up with their fingers. Help your child to measure and add the ingredients for the dressing, and give your child a set of spoons to mix the salad in the bowl.

Written recipes are a good way for your older child to develop literacy and numeracy skills. Read the recipe with your child before you start. You can talk about concepts like fractions, weights and temperature.

* Cooking can be a window to other countries and cultures. You can talk with your child about the countries that dishes come from and the people who live there.

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