How to Keep Kids Involved in the Kitchen

Though the new school year is in session, many parents are finding themselves juggling work, parenting, and now remote-learning supervision. We asked some of our favorite food creatives how they keep their little ones busy in the kitchen—here’s their advice:

Mackenzie Smith Kelley, photographer

When my two-year-old daughter was able to stand, we got her a tower (a step stool with a back so she doesn’t fall out of it) so she could see what I was up to on the kitchen counter, and “help.” Having her rip up chopped greens and move them from one bowl to another or “stir” whatever was in the bowl keeps her busy while I do what I need to do to get a meal on the table. Every weekend, we make breakfast tacos by topping a tortilla filled with eggs and cheese with any veggies we have in the fridge. Our favorite is crispy fried kale or collards and scallions. I chop one bunch of greens into small pieces and Maya will tear and stir (there is no need to stir, but she does this fervently) while the cast iron heats up.

Photo: Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Hetal Vasavada, cookbook author

Our 4-year-old is constantly wanting to be involved in the kitchen with us, so we always give her little tasks like stirring a pot or sprinkling seasoning into the pot. Plus we've figured out that if she helps make a dish, she’s 100 percent more likely to actually eat it, so it's a great way to get your kids to eat new foods and try new cuisines!

Read more: Milk and Cardamom Sweets

Vivian Lui, photographer

I have a niece who loves to cook. When she was young, she was always interested in what we ate. Letting her taste as I was cooking, and simple tasks like stirring the pot, adding seasoning and getting her hands messy while making doughs really helped encourage her to do more in the kitchen. She can now bake on her own and make her family dinner. I’m quite a proud aunt.

Read more: Vivian Lui

Jessica Battilana, cookbook author

I am the parent of two wild and crazy guys (my sons are 9 and 6) and until this whole global pandemic, I was actually the lunch cook at their school, making lunch for 260 preschool to fifth graders and staff every weekday. So, ways I get them involved: They have real knives, sized for their small hands, and I let them cut things, which is always popular, and peel things (though sometimes in their enthusiasm they whittle carrots down to toothpicks). My 6-year-old knows how to make scrambled eggs, and they both like making granola, which plays to their skill set (dump and stir). They're also on compost duty, because they are children and like gross things, so a daily viewing of food in various stages of decomposition is a thrill, and they can see that a skunk or raccoon dug under the composter, that’s also a real thrill.

Read more: Jessica Battilana

Felipe is a pretty good baking assistant, is excellent and peeling garlic, but is usually kept busy doing the dishes.

Maria del Mar Cuadra food stylist

Melissa Hom, photographer

I have a 3 year old who, unfortunately, eats the same five things, so it’s a work in progress. We have a few raised beds and have been growing tomatoes, basil, sugar peas, kumquats, and squash. She helps water them daily, cut twine to support the plants, and pick the ripe tomatoes. We turn them into tomato sauce for her pizza. She loves picking basil leaves and turning the blender on to make pesto, even though she won’t eat that yet.

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Photo: Melissa Hom

Dawn Perry, cookbook author

Salad spinning is a great way to keep kids occupied without actually interrupting the cooking process (whether or not they're actually spinning salad). Just check for plush toys in your spinner before you use it next. Sorting items is another good kitchen activity: Gather a bunch of sturdy containers and easy-to-divide items like large dried pasta shapes or dried beans, lemons and limes or grapes, and ask kids to put like with like.

Read more: Dawn K. Perry

Carrie Purcell, food stylist

My husband and I have an almost 3-year-old who is constantly surrounded by food, cooking, styling and photography—even more so during the pandemic as we work from home with her around more often. Shelling peas and favas or ripping the greens from carrots were just a few ways to get her involved at a really young age, and it’s evolved into cutting bananas, avocados and cucumbers, measuring flours for pancakes and even giving her a choice between two things to cook for meals. Helping water, plant and harvest in our garden this year has also been a great learning experience!

Read more: Carrie Purcell

Photo: Carrie Purcell