Cooking with Kids: Preschool (Ages 2-4)
Some may think that your children are too young to be in the kitchen at this age, but teaching preschoolers how to make healthy choices while they’re young is a wonderful way to establish good habits! At this age, your children love to be with you and help so get them involved and teach them about the importance of eating healthy food and fresh produce.
Get it from the source
If you have access to local farmer’s markets and on-farm stores, it’s a learning experience for your children to see where food comes from: the farms and farmers themselves! Associating the idea that food is the result of hard work helps establish that food is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted. Visiting local farms is also a great way to learn, first hand how and where food is grown and harvested.
Aside from visiting a farm for a tour or pick your own fruits and veggies, young children can benefit from getting into the habit of accompanying you to the grocery store to see where the food they eat is purchased. While they’re sitting in the cart, they’re at a perfect level to see how the food is displayed, and learn about the names of each item. Take a bit of extra time to discover different produce items and discuss the kind of fruits and veggies they might enjoy.
If your children are big fans of the word “No”, offer choices you can live with. Instead of asking, “Do you want apples for a snack?” ask, “Would you rather have apples or pears for a snack this week?” or “Which kind of apple should we try this week?” Kids tend to be more excited about eating when they feel they’ve made the choice.
Use your trips to the store or time in the kitchen together to reinforce other skills like vocabulary, pronunciation, colours, and numbers. Find age appropriate questions, like “What colour is this?” or “Can you guess how many carrots are in the bag?” You can even get a head start on geography as you talk about where your produce is coming from during different seasons of the year.
You can also ask your preschooler to help you put things away “like a grown up” and tell them why certain items do not go in the fridge, like bananas and tomatoes. While you prepare dinner, ask them to remember where the potatoes are or help you count out how many Brussels Sprouts you need for the size of your family.
Instead of having kids off in another room playing or watching TV, have them spend some time with you in the kitchen! While some may not have the attention span to stand patiently and safely away from the stove, they might enjoy putting paper liners in muffin tins or washfruits and veggies with you at the sink. Even providing them with a spare pot and wooden spoon to “imaginary” cook on the floor is a great way to get kids feeling involved and a part of dinner preparation.. Children seem to love salad spinners, so why not put them to work and have them spin your salad greens dry for dinner?
Depending on how much time you can spend with your children in the kitchen, you can also teach them to cut soft fruits and vegetables with a butter knife or a serrated spreader. Lay down the basics for safe cutting practices, like how to hold a knife, how to hold veggies and fruits steadily and keep fingers away from the blade. Doing this also lets them feel like they are an integral part of preparing dinner! Start off with softer fruits and veggies like strawberries, banana, zucchini, avocado, and mushrooms.
Kids can also help you pour ingredients that you’ve measured out, so they learn what goes into a full meal. It might be a little bit of work to supervise, but building a foundation of strong relationships with healthy food is worth it in the long run. Start small and build up as they grow.
Food Safety Fundamentals
It’s always a good idea to introduce good food safety practices at a young age. Washing hands, washing produce, using separate utensils to avoid cross contamination are great places to start when it comes to educating children about cooking. Teaching kids to maintain a clean space also leads to fewer accidents (spills, burns, cuts, etc.), and can help you keep ahead of dishes before things begin to pile up!