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  • Writer's pictureRobin Thomas

Cooking with Kids: A Recipe for Healthy Eating, Life Skills, and Connection

A multigenerational family cooking together in the kitchen.

When my boys were little, we had great fun cooking together. It all started in the garden, where I would set up fallen tree branches for a teepee covered in bean vines, sunflowers, and tomatoes surrounding it. They played in the teepee and picked beans for supper. They also loved picking and eating blueberries right off the bushes in our backyard.

For many parents, just making a home-cooked meal can feel overwhelming without adding kids into the picture. Not everyone has a garden in their backyard, and it may seem so much easier and less messy to purchase prepared food, but there are still plenty of benefits for cooking with your kids today.

With proper preparation and patience, cooking with kids won’t turn into a kitchen nightmare. It will make any minor messes or stresses more than worth it, and your children will fill up on life-long skills and short-term benefits.

6 Ways Cooking with Kids Can Make Your Family Stronger

  1. Creates Healthy Eating Habits: Cooking with your kids can help get them interested in trying a variety of healthy foods. That means more nutrient-rich foods (fruits and vegetables), lean proteins, grains, and fiber. Cooking and eating with your kids also helps you set an example for healthy eating that kids can mimic.

  2. Practices life skills: Learning to cook is a skill your kids can use their whole life. It also develops resilience to making mistakes in a safe environment (with you as their guide). I will always remember with laughter the cake I made with whole eggs- shell and all!

  3. Positive cooking experiences can help build self-confidence: Cooking successes should be celebrated! These small achievements will go far in reinforcing the desire to learn new things.

  4. Makes weight management easier. Healthy weight goes hand in hand with healthy eating habits. Eating at home also makes it easier to avoid fried, fatty, and sugary foods. So, it makes sense that studies link family cooking and eating to healthy weight in kids.

  5. Cooking improves academic skills. Reading and math aren’t the first skills you connect with cooking. But reading recipes, counting ingredients, and measuring are integral parts of food preparation. Communication skills—like language and listening—can also be improved when kids cook with their parents.

  6. Fosters connection and conversation. Cooking with kids sets up quality family time. You’ll have a chance to talk to your kids, teach, listen, and connect with them. These conversations over meals—from chopping to chewing—helps bring families together.

How to Get Started Cooking with Kids

It takes a little planning, but the whole family can get involved with meal planning and food preparation.

Start slowly by adding one family meal to your weekly schedule. If your life is busy, plan a leisurely weekend breakfast or lunch. Our family loved Friday night dinners. After a few weeks, add another family meal to your schedule.

Putting together a family meal does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. Let every member of the family choose a favorite item and build simple, delicious meals around them. Even small children can pick a main dish like tacos or pasta, a vegetable like a green salad or cooked carrots, and sliced apples or fruit salad for dessert.

The table setting can improve the mealtime mood with very little expense: brightly colored napkins and plates add a fun touch.

7 Tips for Making Cooking with Kids Fun and Easy

It’s time to get cooking! Here are seven tips to help you get the food on the table with minimal fuss and maximum enjoyment:

  1. Assign age-appropriate tasks: You aren’t going to give your toddler the cleaver. But there are jobs in the kitchen that are suited for certain age groups. Kids under 5 years old can wash produce, count, measure, and even hand mix. Older kids (8 and up) can read recipes, stir food, grate, and even chop with some extra protection and supervision.

  2. Set up for safety and mess-minimization: Make sure everybody has their workstation set up for the tasks they can safely perform. Place the younger kids away from the heat and sharp objects. Provide aprons and have kids work over sheet pans for easy cleanup.

  3. Prepare some ingredients beforehand: It’s not cheating to have some ingredients ready to go into the pan—especially if they’re difficult to prepare or can make a mess. One good example: have raw chicken diced and ready to go in the pan if you’re making a stir fry.

  4. Serve up guidance and compliments: You don’t have to be a chef to teach cooking basics to kids. Guide kids through the tasks until they’ve mastered them. And make sure they know when they’ve done a good job. Compliments count.

  5. Don’t rush: Parenting is an exercise in patience. Cooking as a family is no different. Schedule extra time to prepare and cook the meals you make with your kids. And it’s a cliché, but the experience is actually more important than the end product.

  6. Eliminate distractions: To get all the benefits of cooking with kids, turn off the TV and have everybody put down their phones. This will foster more conversation and enhance the quality time you spend as a family.

  7. Have fun: You don’t need to have a food fight to enjoy your time in the kitchen. Mostly it’s about managing your expectations, leaving time to learn, laugh, and love what you’re doing. The fun you have making dinner will translate into the finished product.

Cooking as a family doesn’t have to be daunting. Preparing properly are the keys to a successful and (relatively) stress-free experience. And remember, when you’re cooking with kids you’re not just making a meal—you’re developing skills, confidence, and habits for a lifetime.

Robin Thomas worked for 25 years in Medical Research at UNC, studying inflammation in chronic and autoimmune diseases. She left UNC to start her own Wellness Business in 2004 and founded

Living Well Connections, a community for people whose passion is healthy living, in 2015.

Learn more at

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