The most anticipated meal of the year is just around the corner: Thanksgiving dinner. This year, why not make the meal preparation a family affair? Every family member can play a role in the kitchen, and involving your kids in the cooking process has a host of benefits.
“I think the key to getting kids interested in cooking their own food is to start them out young. They can do easy things like wash vegetables, stir batter, and measure and dump in ingredients.” – PLEZi Nutrition Kitchen Cabinet member Donna Martin
From boosting confidence by trying new skills to increasing a child’s willingness to try new foods (research suggests that children who help prepare a meal are more likely to try it), cooking is a valuable process for children to get involved in. Cooking together is also a great opportunity to spend quality time as a family and to teach your kids about nutrition, family culture, and values.
Below, we’ve gathered a few suggestions for how to involve your kids in the kitchen at every age.
The Pre-K Helpers
Your littlest sous chefs, kids ages 3-5, are eager to learn in the kitchen. At this age, they can help wash fruits and vegetables, mix ingredients, tear lettuce, and dip food (like strawberries into dark chocolate). You can also encourage them to help you measure dry ingredients and/or add pre-measured ingredients into the mixing bowl!
For a typical Thanksgiving meal, your youngest helpers can do things like:
- washing potatoes, yams, and cranberries
- adding pre-measured apple or pumpkin pie ingredients into the bowl
- arranging marshmallows on top of your grandma’s favorite sweet potato casserole 😉
The Grade-School Sous Chefs
Involving your elementary school aged kids in the kitchen can feed their cooking curiosity! At this age, they can be more involved in the cooking process from start to finish. Your child might help you measure and stir ingredients, along with putting them in the pan for cooking. Now, they may help crack eggs, measure and pour liquids, and/or help shape dough for cookies or meatballs.
They can also help by reading the recipe out loud to their fellow chefs or helping to set and clear the table before and after the meal.
For a typical Thanksgiving meal, your grade school kids can help with things like:
- preparing vegetables like green beans or brussel sprouts with seasoning before they head into the oven
- combining the stuffing ingredients together
- pouring the gravy into the gravy boat before bringing it to the table
The Budding Cooks
Your eldest children can have more autonomy in the kitchen. They might start by cooking simple recipes under your supervision and graduate to preparing meals for the family mostly on their own.
Now, they can be trusted to peel, chop, and explore new kitchen gadgets (food processors, garlic presses, etc.).
For a typical Thanksgiving meal, your oldest children can help with things like:
- peeling and mashing potatoes
- chopping vegetables to mix into stuffing or add to a salad
- assisting a parent to prepare the turkey
Beyond cooking, there’s a ton that your kids can do to help out (and feel ownership over) when getting ready to host a family gathering. Here are a few more ideas for getting the whole family involved.
- Making and/or decorating place cards or name cards for everyone attending
- Setting the table
- Putting together a creative centerpiece or decorations
- Clearing the table after everyone chows down
- Helping put leftovers away
- Doing the dishes! Depending on their age, you may want to make a grown-up pile (fragile dishes like ceramic and glass) and a kid pile (plastic, wood, serving tools, etc.)
Each family member, no matter their age, has an important role to play in the kitchen. Cooking with your kids can be a great way to enjoy time together and increase their interest in a variety of healthy foods, not to mention build their cooking skills!
- University of Illinois Extension – Cooking With Children
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – Chefs in Training: Getting Children Involved in the Kitchen
- North Dakota State University – Now You’re Cookin’: Meals with Help from Kids!
- Taste Of Home – Cooking with Kids: A Guide to Kitchen Tasks for Every Age