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What ages can kids get cooking?
You may be surprised by how early you can start your child's culinary education. "Get them started young," says Maggie Patterson, a South Mountain, ON, mom. She started cooking with her son, Drew, when he was just two years old. "As soon as he could, he wouldâ€¨stand on a chair and help me with age-appropriate tasks," such as choosing recipes, measuring ingredients and eventually mixing and chopping.
Lisa Bolton's son, Matteo, 3, "started helping me in the kitchen when he was about 18 months. That usually meant a bowl, some flour and a wooden spoon when I was making bread or spinning the salad," says the Surrey, BC, mom and Sixtyone45.com food blogger.
If your sous chef is older, he or she may have stronger opinions about what's on the menu or what tasks they take on. Take Toronto chef and cookbook author Trish Magwood's 10-year-old, Findlay, for instance. "Fin loves risotto—especially making risotto. He doesn't have to worry about homework or helping with cleanup, just standing by the stove and stirring!" she says.
Risotto prep is an exercise in patience, diligence and attentiveness to detail—all traits worth cultivating. Plus, picky eaters may be more interested in trying something they helped make.
Yes, it will get messy
Cut your stress by accepting that there will be cleanup. "You're going to have things spilling, eggs half in the bowl and half on the counter, and that's okay. I encourage Drew to be thoughtful about what he's doing, but he's a kid! He's having fun, we're working together and that's the point," says Maggie, whose kitchen floor has been covered in sprinkles more times than she'd care to focus on.
Be conscious of time constraints, too. "Matteo doesn't help with every meal," says Lisa. "If we are on a schedule, those are not the best helping days. But we are often looking to fill time in the afternoon, so he's a great help for prepping dinners." Lazy weekend brunches are another low-stress time to cook or bake together.
Keep kids motivated by focusing on the joys of cooking and eating, and look for ways to make food prep even more fun. Toronto mom Meagan Ross's two sons, ages two and four, both love apples and making applesauce, so she and her husband take them apple-picking in the fall, which gives them a chance to work their magic using their handpicked fruit. "Peeling apples is one of their favourite activities," she says.
Let your kids choose from a range of age-appropriate tasks.
Toddlers and preschoolers:
• Adding premeasured ingredients to mixing bowls
• Lining baking trays
• Washing produce or bowls*
• Turning countertop appliances, such as a toaster or blender, "on" and "off"*
Little kids (5-8):
• Adding toppings to pizza
• Rolling and cutting out pasta
• Cutting out cookies and placing them onto baking sheets
• Cupcake decorating
• Retrieving ingredients from cupboards, pantry, fridge*
• Peeling vegetables*
• Measuring ingredients*
• Forming meatballs or patties
• Helping with cleanup*
Big kids (9+):
• Cracking eggs (and removing excess shells on their own!)
• Grating cheese
• Ladling out muffin or cupcake batter
• Cutting, slicing, chopping*
• Picking out recipes to try
• Learning to use the stove*
• Rolling out pizza dough*
• Pounding cutlets
* with parental supervision/assistance as required
Have a few kids? Divvy up the chores for efficiency. Trish has three kids (ages five, eight and 10) who are put to work assembly line–style. Quesadillas are a fave for the family of five. "During preparation, I sauté the onions and peppers while the kids grate cheese, put salsa and sour cream in bowls, chop vegetables, stack tortillas and wrap them in foil for the oven, then help lay it all out. Everyone assembles their own quesadillas, and they are happy to eat them since they all had a hand in making them," says Trish.
Want some kid-friendly recipes? Visit our kid-friendly food section for suggestions.