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brother and sister at kitchen counter stirring metal bowls

Encourage Independence with Food Kids Can Make

brother and sister at kitchen counter stirring metal bowls

No matter how old your child is, someday they’ll have to cook for themselves. Believe it or not, you can cook with children starting when they’re toddlers! Dig into our guide detailing all the different culinary options for your child, sorted by age.

Under Three

Toddlers are notoriously curious. That eager nature will doubtless express itself in a desire to “help you out” in the kitchen as you cook.

Some parents might prefer to keep their little ones out of the room while they prepare a meal, and that’s completely fine! If you want to let them help, there are tasks they can do. (Okay, it’s not technically “food kids can make” but it is encouraging independence!)

  • Wash vegetables
  • Stirring room-temperature ingredients
  • Mashing potatoes (again, watch the temperature)
  • Picking stems off of herbs or leaves
  • Sprinkling finishing touches on baked goods (sprinkles and the like)

Trust us, your little one will be delighted to spend this time with you. An essential note of caution: keep all hazards out of reach of grabbing hands. Pot handles, sharp utensils, hot liquids, etc. should all be kept well out of reach.

Ages Three to Five

This age group will still need close supervision. However, their motor skills are better and they can usually focus for longer. That means the kinds of food your kids can make expands to include things like:

  • Pasta sauces
  • Breading fish sticks or fingers
  • Mashing strawberries for homemade ice cream
  • Rolling dough for cookies, breads, and the like

While you should absolutely keep a close eye on these ages, you can encourage independence by demonstrating a safe skill and then backing off a little to let them attempt it. Continue to keep sharp, heavy, or extremely hot items away from them, however.

Ages Five to Seven

By these ages, fine motor skills are usually developed, so the list of food kids can make gets even bigger. If you think your child is ready, you can introduce them to a knife designed for young cooks, child food scissors, and a peeler. Have them help you:

  • Peel potatoes
  • Slice and scoop avocados
  • Homemade burgers
  • Cheese roll-ups
  • Baking cakes (including how to fold in ingredients without introducing too much air to the batter)
  • Cutting out sugar cookies

Carefully instruct your little one on the proper way to use sharp utensils and where to put their fingers to keep them out of harm’s way. They can also use their child food scissors to snip herbs or cut up leaves for salads and fillings.

Ages Seven to Nine

young girl sitting cross-legged on floor with orange pot in her lap

At this point, the food kids can make is even more intricate. Many children this age can read and follow a recipe, and some may even be mature enough to tackle the stove. Encourage independence by letting them chop most if not all of the ingredients (stick to small knives). Consistently praise their efforts so they develop a passion for being in the kitchen.

Some recipes to try include:

  • Muffins
  • Pot pies
  • Pizzas and tarts
  • Pretty much all baked goods
  • Salads
  • Sandwiches and wraps

While you should still supervise oven and stove usage (and possibly do those tasks yourself) your kids are almost ready to cook alone.

Ages Nine to Twelve

Kids can make food in the kitchen largely (though not completely) unsupervised at these ages, especially closer to eleven or twelve. By now, hopefully you’ve encouraged enough independence they know how to wash, chop, and assemble ingredients.

Ideally, they should also know how to wash dishes/load the dishwasher, skewer food, put away leftovers, and other tasks associated with cooking. Especially mature kids can also likely operate the stove and oven safely to make things like:

  • Omelettes
  • Roasted chicken and gravy
  • Garlic bread
  • Pasta, including homemade sauces
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Hamburgers
  • Soups, chilis, and stews
  • Microwaveable meals

Your little ones are just about to the stage where the food kids can make is practically limitless!

Ages 12+

By now, your child is largely able to work by themselves in the kitchen. While you shouldn’t leave them completely alone, you shouldn’t need to hover either.

Continue to encourage independence by having them be responsible for at least one dinner per week for the family. Have them pick out a recipe, select the ingredients when you go shopping, and cook the entire thing themselves. (When they cook, consider offering to do the dishes and vice versa. It’s only fair!)

Putting them in charge of their own lunches, and at least one family meal per week not only boosts their confidence in the kitchen but arms them with a wide variety of recipes they can take with them when they eventually move out.

Discovering what food kids can make so young sets them up for a lifetime of independence and success in the kitchen. Never worry about your child going to college and subsisting on boxed mac and cheese and stale pizza again!

Start Cooking with Den’s Hot Dogs

When your little one is ready to handle the microwave, put them in charge of the easiest dinner they’ll ever make. Whether they want hot dogs, sandwiches, or our other meal options, we have the ready-to-heat-and-eat offerings ready in a New York minute.