cooking with kids

When looking in the fridge or pantry, have you ever found yourself reciting “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard…when she came there, the cupboard was bare…” Looking in the fridge, you spot a wizened old carrot, a lonely piece of cheese, and a half empty jar of pickles. Always pickles. You go to your cupboards and when you open them you thought you heard an echo. What am I going to cook for dinner?

We learned through experience that when you learn the skill of cooking, you can turn a few seemingly pathetic unrelated items into a delicious meal. But only if you know what to do with them.

Our mom is an amazing cook. She can make anything taste good – kitchen sink dinners with our meager supplies were always delicious.

How did we learn? Trial and error. She would give us some basic safety instructions and a recipe. If we had questions, she would help, but left us to figure things out. Boy, did we learn fast what NOT to do. In all fairness, she still ate (with a straight face) and praised all our efforts, even when they looked as appetizing as a mud pie.

By our late teens we were making souffles and hosting dinner parties. But only because we learned to have confidence in the kitchen when we started out very young.

Learning to cook is not just about food.

If you are interested in why cooking is so beneficial and what skills are developed, see the article Why Cooking?

Even if you prefer take-out and the idea of cooking isn’t thrilling for you, try and see it as an opportunity to spend time with your kids. And you’ll be helping them develop a vital life skill, and one that can have a dramatic impact on their health. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn to love it too.

Ages? Safety?

This will vary a lot depending on your child. We were in the kitchen pretty young, given simple certain tasks depending on ability. Simple things like washing or tearing up lettuce, stirring cookie batter, or putting ingredients in a bowl…to more complicated things like peeling and cutting vegetables, separating egg yolks, measuring out ingredients, or frying an egg.

They are never too young to learn “Tools Not Toys.” When did you learn that the stove was hot? Knives were sharp?

Toddlers may not have the best patience in the kitchen, but, picky eaters may be more likely to try new foods when they helped cook. Also, it’s one little step at a time. Start small, prepare for short attentions spans, but persevere. With older kids, challenging them to accomplish recipes on their own may surprise you – and themselves – with the results.

In the ” Little Helpers Toddler Cookbook” and “Little Helpers Toddler Baking Cookbook” there is a section on safety that is very helpful.  

There’s advice for the best ways to bake with a toddler, including how to set up a workspace, explain kitchen safety, and create a backup plan in case things get a little too messy. Every recipe includes both “adult steps” and “toddler steps” to help know where your toddler can be independent and when you can help.

Tools for Pretend Play

You could start out cooking up some interest by buying little cooking stations for when they are really young.

Step2 Fun with Friends Kitchen

  • Comes in tan, pink, or brown/blue
  • Over 16,000 5 Star reviews
  • Pretend stovetop burner with electronic lights and sounds, activated with the frying pan and boiling pot that are included (requires 2 “AA” batteries, not included).
  • Pretend, single-serve coffee maker station and travel mug
  • Includes a stovetop, oven with clickable knob, microwave, and refrigerator
  • Molded sink and swivel faucet.
  • Hanging storage for culinary equipment and dish rack to keep dishes neat
  • Reasonably priced

KidKraft Wooden Play Kitchen

  • This one is a bit pricier but fits in a corner
  • Has a removable sink for easier cleanup
  • Burners have realistic lights and sound
  • Shelving and hanging pegs for pots, pans and accessories
  • Oven, microwave, refrigerator, freezer and washer doors all open and close
  • Cordless phone with hands-free clip
  • Sturdy wood construction
  • Packaged with detailed, step-by-step assembly instructions

tools for the real kitchen

Kids like to DO, and they tend to be more interested when they have their own tools. Safety in the kitchen is a concern for sure! Depending on age and ability, there are many options. Here are some ideas.

Wooden Kids Knife

  • Eco-friendly, natural wood without harmful chemicals, colors or plastics (made from Beech wood from Germany)
  • Ergonomic and does not cut skin
  • Can cut various vegetables and fruits
  • One parent mentioned their 19 month son loves using it to cut sausage patties

Tovla Jr. Kids Cooking and Baking Gift Set with Storage Case 

  • Made from safe, nontoxic, food-grade materials
  • Modern colors most kids will like
  • Comes with 4 parent-approved, delicious recipes
  • Includes: a portable reusable tool box for storage, 4 recipe cards for kids, apron, measuring cups & measuring spoons, kitchen timer, pair of tongs, rolling pin, 3 nylon knives, spoon, spatula, whisk, 3 cookie cutters and a cutting board.

MasterChef Junior Cooking Essentials Set – 9 Pc

  • Officially licensed MasterChef Junior Cooking Essentials Set: comes with an apron, cutting board, mixing bowl, measuring cups, measuring spoon, spatula, spoon and tongs
  • Set also features 3 unique recipe cards for all levels of experience, plus 1 blank recipe card to write your own recipe
  • Includes real cooking tools with kid-safe, non-slip silicone grips

MasterChef Junior Baking Kitchen Set – 7 Pc:  mixing bowl, liquid measuring cup, a rolling pin, spatula, 4 silicone baking cups and 4 dusting guards

MasterChef Junior Knife and Cutting Board Set

  • Includes an 11″ knife, a 9″ knife, a 8 1/2″ x 12″ silicone cutting board and 15 recipe cards.
  • MasterChef Junior’s knives are made of a kid safe serrated plastic blade with non-slip silicone grips.

Toddler Step Stool

  • 18 months and older
  • Solid wood, non toxic coating
  • Anti-slip strips (included and attachable)
  • Assembly needed
  • 6 month return policy
  • 18″L x 18.1″W x 34.8″H

Easy Bake Oven

Did you want one of these? My friend had one and we loved playing with it. They are a really great invention.

Learning to bake from a mix is pretty easy, and does teach you come basic skills like mixing, adding eggs, proper cooking times and so forth. Hopefully it may spark interest in more. Plus, it’s reasonably safe for kids to do on their own with some supervision.

  • Bakes actual cakes and brownies, pretzels and pizza
  • Electric, no light bulbs needed
  • Includes oven, baking pan, pan tool, chocolate brownie mix, vanilla frosting mix, rainbow crystals, and instructions (Mixes contain WHEAT, MILK, EGGS, SOY and trace amounts of PEANUTS, TREE NUTS, and SULPHITES)
  • There are various refill packs available such as this 6-pack of variety items
  • And even an easy bake cookbook

How to Recipe Books for Kids

Little Helpers Toddler Cookbook (1-4 years)

  • Easy instructions, color coded that highlights child friendly steps
  • Healthy, wholesome ingredients, many incorporate natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup
  • Safety guide for introducing safely to tools and even gives a list of kid friendly kitchen tools

The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs

  • With more than 14,000 5 STAR reviews… That says something, right?
  • 100+ recipes
  • From Americas Test Kitchen (we love their recipes)
  • Kid-tested and approved recipes, thoroughly tested by more than 750 kids
  • Includes recipes for breakfast, snacks and beverages, dinners, desserts, and more.
  • Step-by-step photos of tips and techniques
  • Testimonials, and even product reviews, from kid cooks

Food Network Magazine The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook

  • Includes 150+ recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts
  • Developed by the chefs from Food Network’s test kitchen
  • Safety in the kitchen is highlighted
  • Cooking tips and color photos for every recipe
  • Choose-your-own-adventure recipes (like design-your-own Stuffed French Toast)
  • Fun food games and quizzes (like “What’s Your Hot Dog IQ?”)
  • Bonus coloring book pages

Disney: The Simple Family Cookbook

Or Disney Princess Cookbook

  • If you need a way to lure your kids into the kitchen… maybe some Disney characters will help!
  • 100 simple recipes inspired by Disney characters (spaghetti with Lady and the Tramp, sweet snowballs with Olaf and Elsa, and Hawaiian pizza with Lilo and Stitch)
  • Each recipe uses only 2-5 ingredients
  • Simple instructions

Baking Recipe Books

Baking (as many of us have experienced through repeated fails) requires more attention to detail, more accuracy of measurement, and specific chemical reactions. But it can be so much fun (especially personalizing the decorations!)

The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs

  • Nearly 6,000 Five Star reviews
  • Tested by more than 5,000 kids
  • Includes recipes for breakfast, breads, pizzas, cookies, cupcakes, pretzels, emapanadas, pies, brownies, and cakes.
  • Step-by-step photos of tips and techniques
  • Testimonials (and even some product reviews!) from kid test cooks

MasterChef Junior Bakes!: Bold Recipes and Essential Techniques to Inspire Young Bakers

  • 100+ recipes
  • Detailed step-by-step photos, in-depth MasterChef Lessons
  • Practical hints about must-have ingredients, neat kitchen gear, and the science of baking
  • Learn important basic baking skills like how to cream butter, shallow fry, whip and knead breads

Free Recipes


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