Cooking with Kids

Harvesting the Nourishment 

When the days turn colder and wetter, the clocks turn back an hour and the darkness of impending winter is upon us, some parents may find it difficult to think of fun indoor activities to do with their children. Fall and harvest time, however, is a great time of year to cook with your children.

Studies have shown that involving kids in cooking at home will help them become more connected to food sources and preparation. Cooking with children can start as early as toddlerhood. Starting these activities early on in a child’s life will set-up routine around cooking, which will make them more likely to want to help out as they grow older.

Here are five ideas for getting children of all ages to become more aware of food sources and involved with cooking in the home.

  1. Connection to Food Sources: Visiting the Farmer’s Market Fall is the perfect time to check out a local farmer’s market, as they are overflowing with the last of their harvest. Farmer’s markets provide a unique opportunity for children to view different kinds of vegetables and locally made products that are sometimes not available at the chain grocery stores. The spirit of community is alive and well at these venues, and often vendors will have samples to try so your child can experience tasting or touching a new food or vegetable. Local farmers also work incredibly hard producing their food, and I have found them to be enthusiastic and eager to talk to people about that process. The connection and ownership children feel to the food they are going to help prepare is also solidified by a trip to the farmer’s market.
  2. A Spoonful of Sugar: Integrated Math and Measurement Preparing food and cooking with your children is a great way to teach simple math concepts, and show them practical applications of adding, subtracting, fractions and measurement. Simple activities such as stacking and unstacking the measuring cups needed for a recipe are great ways to introduce toddlers to math. If you approach this aspect of meal prep like a game, children will be more engaged and eager to participate. Young children especially, eat up learning when it is concrete and applied. Very young children can count the items needed in a recipe. You could even incorporate rhymes, such as “1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato, 4!” For older children you can also draw attention to the math concept of volume, by showing how something differs in measurement when it is a dry ingredient versus wet etc.
  3. Playing with your Food: A Smorgasbord for the Senses “Don’t play with your food,” is an old adage; however, young children learn about their environment through sensory play experiences and cooking is one of the best ways to be supported in this exploration.   All kinds of cooking involve sensory participation from smell, to touch to the final taste. Children can learn the difference between herbs and spices by doing smell test games, and they can experience different textures by getting their hands right into the baking bowl. As children grow older they can take on more challenging sensory tasks like stirring, rolling out dough and even cutting veggies. The best part of cooking is the taste test! This is another way to help children connect and learn about their olfactory systems, and start to learn the difference between salty, sweet and spicy and know when to add a pinch more spice.
  4. Comfort Food is Connection We all have foods that our family – our mothers, grandmother, fathers, or maybe aunties – made that we associate with pleasant and loving memories. In my family, it is the annual making of cabbage rolls on Christmas Eve, which was passed on to my mother from her father and then to me. My grandpa always kept the recipe a bit of a secret and we had to watch and learn, therein, the recipe has evolved over the years. Each winter holiday, my husband eagerly looks forward to this meal.  Cooking is laden with ritual. When I facilitated a community kitchen, this was one of my favourite parts of sharing with the participants: Learning about all the diverse and wonderful foods people made that were associated with different rituals and holidays. As well, it was interesting to hear the stories of how these foods became special for these occasions and how someone’s grandma, or auntie showed them how to make it.   Creating special connections through cooking with your child doesn’t always have to be on the major holidays, it can also involve creating a new family ritual. This might be as easy as once a month having a ‘Saturday is cookie making day,’ or ‘Friday spaghetti night’; or every Sunday dad makes blueberry pancakes. The important and inspirational aspect is helping your child learn that cooking is connection; it provides meaningful experiences, creates memories and brings people together.
  5. Set-up and Clean-up = Community and Caring Involving children in set-up and cleanup for meals is one of the easiest ways to introduce participation. According to my memory, setting the table for dinner was my first chore (however, according to my mom, I used to follow her around the house and help her with all the chores).  For larger family gatherings or dinner parties you can involve children in making place cards for guests. Children can also be involved in helping put food away after a grocery shop, which will also help them learn where things are kept in the kitchen. Having children involved in recipe selection and meal choices are also important because if they feel a sense of ownership in these activities, they are more likely to desire to participate. Clean-up can feel like an arduous task, but as they say many hands make light work. Delegating easy cleanup tasks to children and making it into a game or involving a song will engage children. If you make their participation important and needed, then they will understand and value pitching-in as they grow older.

This post gives some step-by-step easy tasks to involve children from toddlers to nine-year olds in the kitchen.



April Martin-Ko has been working in the non-profit sector with diverse children, youth and families for over 20 years, and is the Provincial Coordinator for the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program®. She has a Bachelor of Education, with a focus on the early years and is passionate about storytelling. April believes cultivating imagination, sharing stories and spending time in nature helps families to thrive.


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