Letting kids help you in the kitchen can be hard, it’s true. But even though allowing littles to “help” you in the kitchen can be difficult physically and mentally, but the end result is worth it!
Here’s ideas for what your about what your kids can actually do for meal prep by age.
Meal prep tasks for young toddlers
I let each of my kids get involved in meal prep around 18 months old. They only do really simple things, and I have to be right on top of them, but I want them to get the idea that cooking is fun!
I have found that when they’re this tiny, they’re too short to reach the counter, even with a stool! Plus, they’re still pretty squirmy. Putting them in their high chair/booster seat solves the problem by letting them reach either the table or their little tray.
When General Leia was this little, we lived in a home in which I didn’t feel comfortable letting her roam free. So it was extra hard for me to cook and simultaneously corral her. I’d keep her in the high chair and find her something to do while I worked.
One of my favorite memories is letting her “sort” black-eyed peas. Even though we’re up in Pennsylvania now, every woman from the South (heck, every man too), needs to know how to make a good pot of beans (I riff off of this pinto recipe now) or black-eyed peas (these black-eyed peas are SO good, although I tend to use a ham hock instead of turkey).
Anyways, an important step when you start with dried beans is to sort them and look for pebbles. Leia started this job a long time ago!
Even when there’s nothing for them to do to “help,” you can still give your little one something to do in the kitchen. I just had a baggie of dried beans I put on Leia’s tray to play with while I chopped, sauteed, or whatever.
But yeah, watch that your kid doesn’t eat the dried beans 🙂
Older toddlers/early preschoolers kitchen tasks
As you kids get a little bigger and you both become more comfortable with them in the kitchen, you can start giving them different tasks. For example, now they can stir food or scramble eggs without you having to hold the spoon with them, hoping they don’t fling food everywhere.
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And they can start to learn to use a knife! Before you freak out, at this stage, I am careful about what type of knife I give them. I start my little ones with a simple plastic knife for spreading jam or butter.
I also allow them to cut up soft cheese and produce, like bananas, avocados, and the like. A great first choice for that task is a little wavy chopper knife. This knife allows kids to use two hands and press from above, giving them better control and keeping their hands well away from the blade.
Of course, you have to train your child how to use this tool. I stand over them and show them how to hold the knife and cut straight down.
And preschoolers can sprinkle, pour from measuring cups and spoons, all sorts of tasks!
And they can knead bread dough too, which they’ll really enjoy.
Older preschoolers/ Early elementary child meal prep
Now we’re getting to the point where kids have the potential to actually be helpful! Since I’ve been letting Leia handle a safe knife since she was about one and a half, she’s now able to handle a paring knife and dice vegetables. I get her started and check what she’s doing periodically, but I don’t have to watch her like a hawk anymore.
This might be counterintuitive at first, but you actually need to give a kid this age a good, sharp knife.
Think back to times when you’ve gotten cut while doing kitchen prep. There’s a good chance it’s because a knife slipped, right? That’s less likely to happen with a sharp knife. Plus, if you get a knife like this, it will actually be useful for you too!
And soon, my kindergartener will be ready to help at the stove top. In fact, maybe she is ready and I’m the one who isn’t! I haven’t let her yet because we have a gas range and five year old + open flame makes me nervous, but I think if I was right with her she could handle it. And I know people with children not much older than her who are able to cook scrambled eggs with some supervision.
Meal prep for older elementary schoolers and beyond
I’m excited because I know I’ll be able to continue handing off tasks to my children as they get older. Another friend of mine has an 8-year old and an 11-year old and lets his children cook dinner on their own once a week, from prep to clean-up. I’m really looking forward to that!
And if you’re looking for ways to actually get your kids to help you with kitchen prep, check out these ways to get your kid to cooperate without resorting to yelling or nagging!
Conclusions on meal prep with kids
I hope this post gives you confidence about how your kids, even little ones, can help in the kitchen.