cooking with kids

’Tis the season for baking goodies and cooking big meals. Why not get the little ones involved in the culinary fun? Younger kids—even preschoolers and toddlers—love to follow in the footsteps of adults, and “helping” in the kitchen is no different. Use these tips and ideas to plan your next kid-friendly cooking project.

Tips for Cooking with Young Kids

Prep in advance. Nothing says chaos like a knife-wielding toddler covered in flour. Avoid a kitchen nightmare by prepping ingredients ahead of time. This could mean chopping, measuring, or just having all of your ingredients at an arm’s reach before a little one gets involved.

Talk about kitchen safety. It’s never too early to start talking about safety in the kitchen. Remind young children often that the oven and stove are hot and not to be touched. Tell them that certain tools, like sharp knives or kitchen shears, are for adults only. Give them their own special, child-safe tools to work with like spatulas, spoons, ladles, and whisks.

Cook with food they can sample. Baking cookies is an all-time favorite activity for obvious reasons (there are cookies involved), but make sure a young child isn’t sampling dough with raw ingredients. Likewise, any time you can get a toddler to eat vegetables is a win, so cooking is a great way to get them to try new, healthy foods.

Give them their own work space away from hot surfaces. Set up a dedicated workspace for the kiddo—either using a safety step stool at the counter or at a child-sized table. Having all of their kid-friendly kitchen tools in one spot will encourage them to stay put—at least for a little while.

Stick with age-appropriate tasks. Young kids can mix, toss, add toppings, sprinkle cheese and spices, and decorate like champs.

Accept the mess and put them on clean-up duty. If you’re going to cook with kids of any age, making a mess is part of the fun. Don’t stress over spilled milk (or any other ingredient). Wear old clothes and an apron, and keep kids confined to surfaces that can be easily wiped down. You also can enlist their help with cleanup. Young kids can help sweep, put items away in low cupboards, and throw away trash or recyclables.

4 Easy Cooking and Baking Projects

Not sure where to start? These four activities are simple—they require a small amount of prep work and are perfect for even the littlest chefs. With any of these cooking projects, make sure you are mindful of kitchen safety, food sensitivities, allergies, and any age-related choking hazards.

Pizza making: You can make homemade dough, or go easy on yourself and buy store-bought, individual crusts (less work and less mess). Let a toddler or preschooler create her own pie by spreading the sauce, sprinkling the cheese and adding their choice of (healthy) toppings—bring on the veggies!

Cookie decorating: Cookies are a holiday favorite and easy project for little ones. Let them get creative with already-baked traditional cutout cookies. Use a spoon or plastic knife to spread icing, and decorate with sprinkles, chocolate chips and other edible goodies.

Homemade trail mix: Set out a variety of dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts and seeds, and let a toddler come up with their own mix.

Bread or muffins: Bread and muffin mixes, like pumpkin or banana, typically require only a few ingredients and some mixing—a perfect start-to-finish baking activity for young children. They’ll love helping you measure, stir, and pour the ingredients into the pan. Use a mini-loaf pan so your little one can make an individual serving.