As most of us are hunkering down in the upcoming weeks in light of everything going on, odds are we’ll be doing more cooking at our houses. This is actually a great time to get your little ones involved in the kitchen. This post contains helpful tips about age appropriate cooking tasks, as well as recipe ideas that you and your kiddos can make together!
This website is focused on families dealing with dairy allergies and intolerances, so all the recipes and snack ideas below will fit that niche – but if your family doesn’t have those restrictions, you can feel free to brainstorm more great recipe ideas that might include dairy.
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Age Appropriate Cooking Tasks
Even though we think of cooking as a skill for older kids, children as young as 2 to 3 can start helping with tasks in the kitchen. Of course, some of the tasks are bound to be a bit messier with younger kids. But that’s OK! Especially right now while we’ve all got some extra time on our hands at home.
As you can see, my kiddo has loved learning and evolving in the kitchen over the last few years:
Here’s a breakdown of some helpful tasks by age group. Keep in mind most of these should be done with supervision, especially in the younger age groups. And of course, start by teaching all age groups the importance of washing hands prior to cooking (and after touching unsafe foods like raw meat, which some of your older kids may be helping with).
Toddlers / Pre-School
- Rinse a fruit or vegetable in the sink
- Tear lettuce
- Stir something (that’s easy to stir) in a bowl
- Place an ingredient in a bowl
- Spin the salad spinner
- Play with kitchen utensils (spatulas, big spoons, etc) while you’re cooking
- Pick leaves of herbs off their stems
- Push a button on an appliance to turn it on or off
- Add sprinkles to a cake or cupcakes
- Use cookie cutters
- Place cupcake liners in the tin
- Peel bananas
- Knead dough
Pre-K / K
- Mash cooked potatoes, cooked berries, ripe bananas, or soft avocados
- Wrap potatoes in tin foil for baking
- Squeezing lemons, limes, or oranges for juice for recipes
- Mix together ingredients in a bowl
- Spray a pan with cooking spray (make sure the nozzle is pointed in the right direction for them before they start!)
- Use kid-friendly knives (with supervision) to cut very soft fruits and vegetables (my favorites are the KinderKitchen Dog Knife and the Curious Chef Children’s 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set).
- Form balls of dough for baking cookies
- Pour beans or vegetables into a colander and rinse them
- Measure ingredients (depending on skill level)
- Roll out dough or pie crust (with help)
- Crack eggs (obviously this can be done at an earlier age; just depends on how much you want to deal with shells in the mix, haha!)
- Use kid-friendly knives (with supervision) to cut a wider variety of foods. As they get to older elementary school age (or middle school age, depending on skill), transition to regular knives and teach a wider variety of knife skills.
- Peel fruits and vegetables
- Scoop batter into muffin tins or pouring batter into a cake pan
- Make an easy-to-follow recipe – like sandwiches, fruit salad, or a simple quick bread recipe
- Cook easy foods on the stovetop with supervision (eggs, sautéing vegetables)
Middle School / High School
- At this age, most pre-teens and teenagers have the dexterity and reading comprehension to prepare meals and recipes according to directions. They may need help depending on the dish, and depending on their own skill level. Adjust tasks based on what they feel comfortable doing.
Other Activities Related to Cooking and Nutrition
In addition to the physical cooking skills themselves, there are also many other activities you can do related to cooking, nutrition, and meal preparation. Many of these can be used to help reinforce school concepts or simple homesteading concepts. For example:
- Give kids old grocery store circulars and let them cut out pictures of foods and glue them to a plate. You can do this by theme too: favorite foods, what they’d want for a birthday meal, creating a balanced plate, etc.
- Have younger kids categorize foods – based on colors, food groups, etc.
- Have your kids create a “mix and match” smoothie list – filling out categories for fruits, liquids, vegetables, and “add-ins”. Then make some of the combos they come up with!
- Let kids help inventory the kitchen for you, making a list of the ingredients you do have on hand. Work together creatively to come up with meal ideas based on that.
- Work on math skills for older kids, providing them with a budget and a grocery circular, and having them come up with a meal plan.
Main Dish Ideas that Kids Can Help Make
With all those tasks in mind, here are some great main course ideas that your kids can help you make in the kitchen:
- Old Fashioned Dairy Free Meatloaf – This classic meatloaf recipe is made without eggs, milk or bread crumbs. It is dairy-free, gluten-free, easy and can be made ahead and frozen for a quick weeknight meal. Kids can help by adding in the ketchup and pouring in the other ingredients, as well as mixing it and packing it into the pan with a spatula or spoon.
- Garden Veggie Frittata – Egg dishes aren’t just for breakfast – you can easily swap a frittata into your dinner rotation for a quick, simple meal too. This is a great option if you’ve got children that are comfortable using knives. Zucchini and tomatoes are both soft enough that they’re good options for elementary age kids to cut.
- Chickpea and Lentil Curry – There are a lot of options to have your children help out with this dish, depending on their age. They can chop the tomatoes and onions, measure out ingredients, drain and wash the chickpeas, or pour ingredients into the pot.
- Crunchy Chicken Ramen Stir Fry – I love a good ramen dish! This one is simple to make and kids will enjoy the tasks they can help with – like stirring together the ingredients for the sauces, or using a mallet to crush up the ramen noodles (I recommend doing the later on a piece of plastic wrap over the carpet while the noodles are still in the bags). Side note – most ramen noodles themselves are dairy free, but the seasoning packets often have dairy. If you are anaphylactic, search out varieties that don’t carry that risk. Otherwise, double check the noodle ingredients and just discard the seasoning packet.
- Vegan French Toast Casserole – Another “breakfast for dinner” idea – or just something yummy to make with your kiddos in the morning. Cutting or tearing stale bread into chunks is a perfect activity for even the littlest chefs to help with.
- Cajun Salmon Burgers – We seem to always have canned salmon on hand as a pantry staple, so these are a great idea to have on hand during this crazy time. Kids can drain the salmon, mix it with the other ingredients, and form it into patties.
- Dairy Free Shepherds Pie – Ahhh, classic comfort food! This dish packs in a lot of flavor, and is generally a crowd-pleaser even for the picky eaters. Older children and teens can help chop the vegetables, while younger kids can work on mashing the potatoes. Any age will love trying to make potato “swirls” with the pastry bag!
- Dairy Free Lasagna – This is a great dish to prep ahead, as you can freeze the whole casserole or freeze individual portions to pull out for another night. Young kids will enjoy helping you layer the noodles and sauce, while older kids might be skilled enough to saute vegetables on the stovetop with your supervision.
- Citrus Shrimp and Noodles – My kiddo loves shrimp (of course, he had to choose one of the most expensive proteins out there, lol!) – so I can’t wait to try this dish with him. Your little one can help stir together the ingredients for the dressing, and can also help toss together the noodles with the cooked ingredients using tongs or other utensils.
- Panko Paprika Chicken – Who doesn’t enjoy a good crusted chicken?! Younger kids can help measure the ingredients for the coating and press the button to pulse it together in the food processor / blender. Older kids can help with the dredging process, dipping it from almond meal to egg to the panko mix.
Snack/Dessert Ideas that Kids Can Help Make
In my opinion, baking and snack preparation are far more fun than cooking dinner. 😉 Try one of these delicious snacks or desserts that you can make with your little ones.
- Maple-Glazed Trail Mix – I really love this idea for kids because a) it’s super versatile and you can adjust based on what you’ve got in the house, and b) it’s a great exercise in measuring skills as they can use different size measuring cups for the different ingredients. Plus, once it’s done, you’ve got an extra snack stash on hand for a few days.
- Sweet Potato Vegan Edible Cookie Dough – This is the perfect fun snack to make with little ones. Let them mash the sweet potatoes, push start on the blender or add in the chocolate chips! This vegan cookie dough recipe is made with natural ingredients and goes perfectly with fruit, chocolate and graham crackers.
- Dairy-Free Banana Bread – Banana bread (and chocolate chip cookies) were some of the first recipes I learned to make when I was a child. Really little ones can help with mashing the banana and stirring, while older kiddos may be able to make the entire recipe on their own.
- Peanut Butter Cereal Bars – These are perfect for kids because they can help mix the batter with their hands, add the raisins and the cereal to the bowl, and can make the batter into either balls or bars. The best part is the immediate gratification. They can eat them right away because the bars are no-bake! Plus, this uses classic pantry staples like cereal, oats, and peanut butter.
- No Bake Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies – I’m a sucker for easy recipes, and I love how simple – yet decadent – these no bake cookies are. Kids can help measure and pour ingredients, stir batter and shape the cookies into balls with their hands.
- Elderberry Gummy Bears – This one’s a little out of the box, but hey – couldn’t we all use a little support with some extra nutrition right now?! The best part is these gummy bears taste like candy, so your kids will love eating a few for a daily treat. Your kiddos can whisk in the gelatin, and can also (carefully) help use the dropper to fill up the gummy bear molds.
- Peach Blueberry Crisp – Peaches are a nice fruit for kids to practice cutting skills on, because when they’re ripe they’re very soft. The kids can slice those, and they can also mix together the ingredients for the topping. Just be sure to use vegan butter or coconut oil in the topping to make this fully dairy-free.
- Chocolate Covered Almonds – With just two ingredients (dairy free chocolate and almonds), this is an easy snack that most kids can handle whipping up – though of course, the younger ones may need some assistance. This is a great way to teach kids how to work with warm ingredients (i.e. melted chocolate) with care. Once the nuts are mixed in, your kiddo can spoon out dollops of them onto wax paper.
- Dairy Free Dunkaroo Dip – Another easy 3-ingredient recipe! As the parent, you’ll probably need to heat-treat the confetti cake mix for your kiddos ahead of time. But from there, this recipe just involves mixing that with coco whip and dairy-free yogurt. They’ll love measuring ingredients and stirring together this tasty dip!
- Almond Flour Banana Muffins – These muffins are a gluten free and dairy free portable snack ready in 30 minutes, ideal for before or after your workout – or as a snack for the kids. Let your kids add oats to the food processor and watch it turn into “flour,” or have them stir the wet or dry ingredients before transferring to muffin tins!