Imagine being home at dinnertime and you are in the kitchen preparing the meal. Then you hear a little voice asking, “when is the food going to be ready?’’ This may be a great time to have your kids get more familiar with cooking as well as the ins and outs of the kitchen. Cooking is an essential life skill. Food and lifestyle expert Lisa Washington says you can get your kids to start cooking by making it fun.

Best Age to Start

Washington says allowing kids to ease into cooking at an early age is key. 

“Between 3 and 5 years old is a really great time, of course under supervision,” Washington said.

Washington is a mom of two adult children. She says when her boys were at that age, she would allow them to do simple tasks like turning the stove on and off as well as stirring and pouring food. It’s a tradition that she has passed down to her grandchildren. Doing this also requires small children to learn how important it is to be careful but confident around the stove.

“I would even teach them how to hold a pot. This part of the handle is very hot. This part of the handle is where you can hold it. I would teach my boys, ‘you want to hold it like you own it,’” Washington explained.

She believes that if children are taught to be scared about cooking, they may reject the experience. She suggests teaching them how to command and assert themselves in the kitchen. The older a child gets, the more cooking responsibilities they can have.

“Ten- to twelve-year-olds develop more cognitive skills, abilities to understand what you’re saying and how to process a recipe,” Washington said.

Kid-friendly Foods

Give your children easy meals that they can be responsible for making. Washington suggests starting with foods like smoothies, salads, fruit kabobs, pizza, and cookies. Have them pick out what fruits and vegetables they want for smoothies and salads. Washington says you want your child to feel like they are in charge.

“When a child feels like they own it, they will be a part of it and they are in charge,” she said.

Washington says once children hit the 10-12 year old stage, they can begin more advanced, independent cooking.

“You can say, ‘hey go and boil some pasta.’ They can open up some marinara sauce and make a nice pasta dish. And maybe saute some vegetables,” she suggested.

This is also an opportunity to teach your child how to measure food, where it comes from, and nutritional facts. 

“High blood pressure, high cholesterol, [and] diabetes are high in the African American community. We’re not educating our children about the food that they are eating,” Washington said.

Respecting the Kitchen

While teaching kids the fundamentals of cooking, parents must remember to remind their children about safety hazards involving sharp knives and appliances in the kitchen. 

“How to handle a knife. Heat safety. Let them know early on [that] this is hot, how to hold a pot, [and] teach them to use wood spoons,” she said.

Cleanliness is also something that parents should stress to their children.

“The best thing you can teach a kid is the first thing we do is hand wash,” Washington said.

Teaching them how to work with raw food is very important.

“You want them to put meat over here. Then your fruits and vegetables over here. You want to make sure that you don’t cross contaminate,” Washington said.

Other tips Washington has include making sure that children dress appropriately in the kitchen by avoiding loose or exposing clothing. She also warns parents should be prepared for accidents.

“A first aid kit should be in everyone’s kitchen because of cuts and boo boos that happen,” she said.