The Novice Chef
Children under the age of six have not spent a great deal of time in the kitchen. At this stage, you must remember that everything is new to them. You can start introducing them to the kitchen by letting them watch while you are fixing dinner. Tell them the names of ingredients and utensils while you are using them. Ask them to repeat the names back to you. Once they have observed you doing this several times, let them practice using the utensils. At this point they can probably help you with some or all of the activities below.
- Washing fruits and vegetables and tearing lettuce for salad
- Mixing with a large spoon
- Decorating cookies and cakes with icing, sprinkles, nuts or other toppings
- Sifting flour and scooping sugar
- Spreading jelly or peanut butter with a plastic knife
- Cleaning off counters and tables
Safety in the kitchen is essential at this stage. Be sure that your children do not go near the stove or electric mixers while they are turned on. Keep all sharp knives and other instruments well out of reach. Keep any raw meats or eggs out of reach as well, since they can carry harmful bacteria.
The Budding Chef
Once your children have mastered the skills of the novice, they should be able to move on to more challenging tasks. Most children between the ages of seven to twelve should be able to handle these types of tasks:
- Measuring ingredients
- Mixing, folding, and beating batter
- Reading recipes to you
- Setting out the correct ingredients for recipes
Later on in this stage, your children might be able to do the following, but only with adult supervision:
- Chop, dice and mince fruits or vegetables. Be sure to have practiced this repeatedly before letting them try this on their own.
- Stir stovetop items like gravies and sauces. Your children should be tall enough to see into the pot before trying this.
Adult supervision is still very important at this stage. Use wooden spoons to stir hot items instead of metal ones. Use thick, dry potholders when handling warm or hot items. Since they may now be working around a hot stove, be sure to remind your children of what they need to do in the event of a fire.
The Accomplished Chef
By the time your children have reached this stage, usually during the teen years, they should be ready to take on some truly challenging tasks in the kitchen. They should be able to handle recipes with several steps and or ingredients. As your children continue to mature, they may even be capable of making simple meals. At this time, they should be able to:
- Use an electric mixer or food processor
- Bake items like cakes, cookies, or muffins
- Crack eggshells
- Handle more than one task at once
While your children may feel they are now ready to take on any task in the kitchen, it is important that you clearly state which activities still require your supervision. Be sure to remind them of safety guidelines and procedures to follow in case of an accident.