Teaching Your Child Basic Cooking and Kitchen Safety

If a child can read and understand the directions in a cookbook, he or she will be able to feed and nurture themselves throughout their lives. Who better to teach them that skill than you, their parent? And if you don’t cook, relax and learn with your kids. Kids love it when adults don’t know everything, especially when the adults are their parents!

Before you begin cooking, give your kids an informal kitchen tour. Show your child how all your kitchen appliances work. Read and explain the words on the appliance. Most kids, even teens, may not know the difference between bake, broil, cook, and grill. Be sure to instruct your child concerning specific safety issues for various appliances. And, give them age appropriate rules as to which appliances they can use by themselves and which appliances they will need to use with adult assistance.

Let younger children play and experiment with the measuring tools before you begin cooking. Kids learn by doing. There is no better way to teach a child how many pints or cups make a quart than by letting them physically measure the amounts themselves.

Sit down with your child and leisurely look through a cookbook. If you don’t have a children’s cookbook, a general all-purpose cookbook is fine to use, especially a binder-style cookbook which lays flat on a table or countertop. Show your child how the cookbook is organized. Point out the table of contents, the index, and the food category sections in the book. Show them how to use those sections. Read a sample recipe aloud. Explain that recipes are formulas which they can use to make the foods they love. Point out that each recipe contains a list of ingredients and instructions on how to make different foods.

Now begin!

  • Pick out a simple recipe for a food your child loves-cookies, salad, pasta, etc.
  • Read the recipe aloud together – all the way through – before you begin. Learning the simple skill of reading instructions all the way through before beginning a task, will help your child and teen throughout their lives. It will keep them from making many mistakes.
  • Have your child help you to assemble and prepare the ingredients and equipment you will need for the recipe.
  • Follow the recipe step by step, letting your child or teen do much of the work themselves.
  • Don’t worry about messes while your work is “in progress.”
  • When it comes time to blend, stir, cook, bake, broil, or grill, show your child how to use a clock or timer to determine the length of the activity.
  • After you have completed the recipe, have your child help with kitchen clean-up. Instruct them on any special care needed for various appliances. And if you have a kid who loves to cook but hates to clean, ask your local librarian for a copy of the tale, “The Little Red Hen.” Read it aloud together. It will help your child understand the concept of fair distribution of labor far better than any lecture you deliver.
  • At last, sit down and eat! Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Your local library has hundreds of cookbooks in its collection, free for you to take home and use. If you would like a cookbook specifically written for children, here are some suggestions:

The African-American Child’s Heritage Cookbook by Vanessa R. Parkham. (Sandcastle, 1994.)

Betty Crocker’s Kids Cook! (Betty Crocker, 2007.)

ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food for Your Family by Sally Sampson. (Simon and Schuster, 2013.)

Clueless in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens by Evelyn Raab. (Rev. Ed. Firefly Books, 2011.)

Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids by Rachael Ray. (Lake-Isle Press, 2004.)

Everything Kids’ Cookbook: From Mac ‘n Cheese to Double Chocolate Chip Cookies—All You Need to Have Some Finger Lick’n Fun by Sandra K. Nissenberg. (Adams Media. 2008.)

The Healthy Body Cookbook: Over 50 Fun Activities and Delicious Recipes for Kids by Joan D’Amico and Karen E. Drummond. (Wiley, 1998.)

Honest Pretzels: and 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 and Up by Mollie Katzen. (Tricycle Press, 2009.)

Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amazing Recipes Your Children Can Really Make by Jennifer Low. (Whitecap Books, 2010.)

Look and Cook: A Cookbook for Children by Tina Davis. (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004.)

National Geographic Kids Cookbook: A Year-Round Fun Food Adventure by Barton Seaver. (National Geographic, 2014.)

Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson. (Tricycle Press, 1994.)

Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson. (Tricycle Press, 2005.)

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance