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Jan 4, 2021

These key skills will encourage budding chefs and foster independence and appreciation in growing children. 

Little kids love to help in the kitchen, especially when it involves making something they love to eat. When kids are between 5 and 10, it's an ideal time to start harnessing their enjoyment of helping and food to teach them some useful skills they can build on for the rest of their lives. Here are four important skills kids need to learn to become independent in the kitchen.

Setting up a workspace.

In cooking, this is called mise en place, which is French for “setting up.” This typically involves preparing all the ingredients —washing, peeling, cutting, and measuring — plus making sure all the tools you need out and at the ready. This skill is especially helpful for kids because if an adult helps them prep their tools and ingredients, they’ll be able to assemble and create a recipe themselves with ease and a sense of accomplishment.

Teaching your child this skill is also a great way to help develop executive function in kids because it requires planning and anticipating needs.

Cutting with a sharp(er) knife.

Once your child is between the ages of 6 and 10, it’s good to teach them how to safely handle a knife. Keep an eye on them for safety, but keep in mind that learning to properly use a sharper knife can be less dangerous than hacking away with a dull one.

Start with a small, sharp paring knife and a banana or other easy-to-slice food. Teach your child how to make a “claw” out of the hand that’s holding the food to slice, curling fingertips under and away from the blade of the knife. Then show them how to press and pull the knife through the food. Experiment with different knives and foods so they learn why a bread knife works better for bread, or how a bigger chopping knife makes it easy to dice carrots.

When teaching your child this skill, they’ll also learn:

  • More developed fine motor skills
  • Concentration
  • Basic kitchen safety

Making an open-face sandwich.

This one is surprisingly useful and versatile. Not only is it the stepping stone to making a whole sandwich with both pieces of bread, but starting with just one slide introduces a chance for experimenting with creating “pizza-style” creations. Some ideas include a slice of bread, pita, or English muffin topped with combos like hummus and cucumber, mustard and cheese, or peanut butter and banana.

When teaching your child this skill, they’ll also learn:

  • How to safely use a knife to spread mustard, peanut butter, or jelly
  • How to combine and add flavors, such as peanut butter and bananas

Planning a meal.

Assign your child a simple meal to make for the family and let them be in charge of planning it entirely. Let them choose a favorite food, an accompanying fruit and vegetable, and a simple dessert. Next help them anticipate what they will need by asking:

  • How many people will be there?
  • How many servings will you need?
  • What items do we already have?
  • What will we need to buy?

Make a list and go shopping with them, helping them choose the items they’ll need. Help them prepare the meal and serve it. Have other family members thank the chef by doing the cleanup.

When teaching your child this skill, they’ll also learn:

  • Counting and planning
  • Shopping basics like where items are in a store
  • What components are in a complete, healthy meal
  • How to think about and serve others