I am determined that when my kids leave my house they will know how to feed themselves. I’m 31 years old and just this year set the goal for myself to actually learn to cook because I could barely make spaghetti up until a few years ago. Not only is the ability for my kids to cook a skill that will feed them, it also builds on fine motor skills, math skills, reading, responsibility, and patience (anyone who has ever waited for cookies to finish baking knows what I’m talking about here!). As I have learned to cook, so have my kids and I assure you that if my seven year old can do the following skills – yours can too.
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Skill 1: De-stemming Grapes
This is a great place to start. No sharp objects. No heat. A simple task that means you have one less thing to do before serving up dinner and helps everyone be able to enjoy a juicy treat.
Tips For Teaching:
- Show them how to wash the grapes. Clean grapes = good grapes.
- Show them what grapes to toss out. You know those creepy mushy ones that seem to pop up at least once in every bag.
- Provide a bowl and give a short demo on pulling the grapes!
Within 5 minutes you will have a grape pulling expert. Try to look the other way when they also show they know how to eat a few.
Skill 2: How To Build A Sandwich
Your life will become SO MUCH EASIER once your children can build simple sandwiches. My two oldest kiddos (4 and 7) both know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as well as how to prep a grilled cheese sandwich until the cooking step. Even then it is nice for me to be able to heat up soup or another side while my 4 year old feels independent building the sandwiches that I will grill.
Tips for Teaching:
- Make sure your children know how to secure the bread bag back closed! Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a sandwich the day after your kids do and being greeted by stale bread.
- If you aren’t comfortable with regular butter knives for spreading ingredients the kids can use plastic ones or even the backs of spoons will spread most things well.
- Try spreadable fruit (Smuckers makes a great one!) or a jam verses a jelly as they tend to spread much more easily and your kids are less likely to get frustrated and tear the bread in their spreading attempts.
Skill 3: How to Use the Can Opener
“Honey – Open that can for me!” is a common phrase I hear myself saying in our kitchen now that my oldest can run our electric can opener. This is once again great if I am struggling my way through a new skill I’m trying to master and can’t turn away from my potential burning dinner of doom. Also – SO MANY FOODS come in cans. What good is it if my kid can run the stove or even a microwave if they can’t open the can that holds the food?
I love our electric can opener but most kids are capable of learning both. Walk them through your can opener of choice step by step and remind them that cut can edges can be sharp. Soon you’ll be calling out for their help as you stare with uncertainty at your latest kitchen experiment.
Both of these electric can openers are affordable and easy to use! We currently have the Black and Decker Extra Tall can opener and it has been going strong through plenty of kid and adult use!
Skill 4: Peeling Vegetables
Once you see that your child can handle the grapes with care, spread butter and jelly, and operate the can opener its time to take the game up a step. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve been learning that call for peeled vegetables. Teaching my oldest to peel vegetables and buying a second peeler was a worthy investment when I have to spend only half the time shedding those veggie skins!
Tips For Teaching:
- Start with a peeler with a good handle. Currently you can find lots of different peelers in different shapes and sizes at almost any store. I have found though that an “old school” peeler with a nice handle works best for my kiddos.
- Teach carrot peeling first. Carrots are long and easy to grip so they aren’t as likely to slip out of your child’s hands as some other vegetables. Show the child how to tuck their fingers carefully around the carrot and then slide the peeler down and away. In the picture above, Karrigan has her pointer finger out long, she was being careful but I do offer reminders to wrap her fingers out of the way!
- Supervise, supervise, supervise. The first few times you have your child peeling vegetables will be SLOW. They are learning about grip, pressure, and coordination. Be a quiet observer. Let them fail a little but always step in kind and gentle if you see a safety concern. With encouragement your child will have this skill mastered within a few attempts.
This peeler set is great for beginners!!
Skill 5: Cutting Fruits and Vegetables – Basic Knife Skills
This is where parents start to get nervous. Can you really hand your 5 – 6- or – 7 year old a knife? A SHARP knife?! Yes, with supervision you certainly can. This process was a slow step by step evolution for us. We started small with soft easy to cut items like strawberries, then moved on to potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and now you name it my seven year old can probably figure out how to cut it. I always stay close by when she is cutting. Often times I cut one thing and she cuts another and we review knife safety EVERY time before cutting begins.
Tips For Teaching:
- We started with small paring knives. They are VERY sharp but not as bulky as our bigger chef knives. Our first cuts were simple – cut the green tops off the strawberries. I reminded her to always walk with a knife held by the handle and point down. We also consistently talk about gripping fruits and vegetables with your fingers curled under so that we only chop food not fingers.
- As your child grows comfortable with things like cutting the tops off strawberries, you can teach them to split them or quarter them. This gets them used to turning and manipulating food for different types of cuts.
- Again, a first vegetable that is great to start with is carrots. They are hard so require more pressure and a bigger knife but they are easy to slice into circles for stews and other recipes.
- Take your time. If your child appears frustrated, tell them its okay and take a break. Don’t be in a rush when teaching a new skill – you won’t have fun and it won’t be safe.
Skill 6: Browning Ground Beef
That’s right – I let my seven year old use open heat. We have an electric stove which makes things simple without the open flame, but with talks about safety I’m sure she could handle a gas range as well. This skill is one I consider to be a cooking building block! SO MANY recipes start with “Brown ground beef in a skillet” – and would you believe I don’t think I had browned ground beef more than 10 times in my life before leaving home?! (Thanks mom for always keeping me fed!) I always make sure to double check that my daughter has turned on the correct burner and help drain off the grease, but other than that she has pretty much free range in the browning ground beef department.
Tips for Teaching:
- Keep tools where your kids can reach them or provide a bench. If they can’t reach a pan or a spatula or other tool, they can’t use their skills!
- Remind them to keep handles turned in toward the stove center. This is a BIG one for us as we have a two year old who could easily grab handles that are sticking out or left unattended for even a moment and get severely burned.
- Explain proper hand washing and what signs they are looking for that meat is properly cooked. Any time a child is dealing with raw meat we want to make sure they wash their hands and don’t leave anything under cooked on accident.
- Let them have some trial and error. The first time my daughter tried to brown ground beef she wasn’t stirring it enough. Things were going to burn but I had learned well through trial and error and so would she. When she could see the results of her actions she was able to learn, make corrections, and gain confidence in her skills.
Skill 7: How to Load and Empty a Dishwasher
It’s not glorious but cooking comes with cleaning. I don’t want my kids to think they can destroy my kitchen and walk away while the magic maid named Mom comes in to clean everything up. All three of my kids participate in unloading the dishwasher each day. This helps them learn where things go in our kitchen and to keep things clean. My oldest is getting better at loading it with some guidance to make sure things get situated correctly. Knowing how to clean your dishes creates responsibility and understanding that things don’t clean themselves. It also means my daughters are more aware of the mess they are making as they cook and attempt to keep things clean.
If you have been thinking about getting your kid more involved in your kitchen I would strongly encourage you to consider giving one of these seven cooking skills a try! The skills they will learn and the quality time you get together in the process are irreplaceable. If you cook with your children currently, what’s your favorite recipe?