A Guide to Little Chef Abilities by Age

The other night me and my older two kids found ourselves completely engrossed by a kid’s cooking and baking show called MasterChef Junior on Hulu. All these adorable kids ranging from 8-13 were competing to win the coveted title of MasterChef Junior. Yes, that’s right. Eight year olds were getting things in and out of the oven, sautéing things on the stove, heck, even using torches to get just the right touches on their desserts! My mind was blown. And not only by the level of cooking skills they had, because literally every single one of them were miles ahead of my cooking abilities, but also just the fact that children were doing using these hot and dangerous tools.

I tend to be a very safety conscious, aka paranoid, parent when it comes to my kids. I was flabbergasted that kids this old were doing these kinds of tasks and mastering them! My daughter was quite intrigued was well. She is a very responsible girl and understands the danger of hot things, et cetera, so I thought it was about time I looked in to when the suitable ages are for what tasks when you’ve got a little chef or baker in the making.

If nothing else, I have noticed that one great way to get my kids to eat their vegetables or eat a meal I’m sure they wouldn’t be very interested in is having them help me make it. Because they contributed, they always want to eat their creations.

Here is a really great guide to the skills that children can learn by age, provided by BBC:

Cooking with the under 3’s:

Ensure all hazards are away from grabbing hands - pot handles, hot food and liquids, sharp or heavy utensils and cleaning products. Think about what they can reach or trip over and make sure there is always a clear path if you're carrying anything hot, sharp or heavy. You can set them up on the kitchen table so you know they're at a safe distance.

Here are some of the activities very young children will enjoy:

  • Washing vegetables - this is a great way of teaching them the names of vegetables and sparking an interest which will hopefully encourage them to try different foods

  • Stirring ingredients - they should be at room temperature

  • Mashing with a fork or potato masher - again watch out for temperature

  • Sprinkling - flour, cake decorations and icing sugar, put a tray underneath to avoid too much mess

  • Spooning ingredients into scales - you'll need to help!

Another way to keep young children occupied is to give them plastic containers and utensils to wash in the sink - this can provide lengthy entertainment while you cook.

Cooking with 3-5 year olds

In addition to the skills listed for under 3s, 3 - 5 year olds with their increased common sense, ability to follow instructions and dexterity can undertake a wide range of skills. It will depend on your knowledge of your child, as skills can still vary greatly at this age. Many children really don't want to listen to what mommy or daddy say so think safety first and don't try and tackle anything your feel unsure about.

Activities to try with 3 - 5 year olds

  • Weighing - pouring or spooning ingredients into scales. Using measuring spoons

  • Washing fruit and vegetables

  • Cutting soft ingredients ie: butter, mushrooms, strawberries using a strong plastic knife

  • Breading and flouring - you can set up three stations with flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs for fish sticks

  • Mixing - using either a spoon or hands to mix together ingredients

  • Tearing and squashing - tearing herbs and lettuce or squashing fruit

  • Sieving - it's best to balance the sieve over a bowl and tap it rather than shaking it around!

  • Using a pestle and mortar - a light wooden one is better than a heavy one

  • Kneading - light kneading can be fun but you'll need to step in to complete the task

 Rolling, shaping and cutting dough - choose plastic cutters and a small rolling pin

  • Spreading - buttering bread and spreading icing

  • Picking and hulling - picking leaves, tomatoes or grapes off the vine and hulling strawberries

Cooking with 5-7 year olds

Along with the skills suggested for 3-5 year olds, you can now introduce your child to trickier techniques and equipment. At this stage, you could think about buying your child a knife designed for young cooks or using a small adult one.

 With the introduction of sharp cutting tools like knives and scissors, always consider the ability of your child and if you're not comfortable, then leave it for a while. There are still other more complex skills they can enjoy. If you do think they can manage then still always keep an eye on them as it's very easy to slip even for adults.

Activities to try with 5 - 7 year olds

  • Cutting using a small knife - children should learn how to form their hand into a claw to keep fingertips out of danger, take a look at our knife skills video

  • Cutting with scissors - if you can get smaller scissors or children's scissors, use them to snip herbs

  • Grating - fingers can easily be grated so keep watch and make sure they don't get too close to the end of whatever they're grating

  • Measuring - even the very youngest children can do this but as children learn to read and do basic math, this is a great opportunity for them to do this with less supervision

  • Rubbing in - rubbing in flour and butter with fingertips is called for in many recipes

  • Beating and folding - show children how to beat cake mixture with a wooden spoon or fold in egg whites without knocking out too much air

  • Greasing and lining a cake tin or tray

  • Peel oranges or hard-boiled eggs - make sure eggs aren't too hot, run them under the cold tap first and be careful of residual heat

  • Setting the table - encourage them to cherish the ritual of family meals

Cooking with 8-11 year olds

Along with the skills suggested for 3 - 5 and 5 - 7 year olds, when children reach 8 +, they can start to get involved with planning and undertake activities with a bit more independence. Supervision is still key due to the number of hazards in the kitchen but take a hands off approach where possible.

Activities to try with 8 - 11 year olds

  • Planning the family meal

  • Following a simple recipe

  • Finding ingredients in the cupboards and fridge

  • Using a peeler

  • Whisking, using a balloon whisk or handheld mixer

  • Using heat on a hob, oven and microwave

  • Making salads

  • Opening cans

Gradually introduce your children to the above and make sure they are aware of the dangers involved. If you feel they are not ready, hold off for a while. Cuts and burns are common in the kitchen so always keep an eye on them. However capable they may be, it's easy to get distracted or try to rush an activity.

Cooking with 12+ year olds and learning opportunities for all

Along with the skills suggested for 5 - 7 and 7 - 11 year olds, when children reach 12 +, they can begin to prepare more complex recipes and even start improvising. How much they can achieve depends on how interested they are in cooking and how much they've done before.

Even much older children should have some supervision to avoid accidents in the kitchen.

Learning opportunities:

  • Food hygiene - washing hands at the beginning and in between touching raw and ready-to-eat ingredients

  • Math - counting, dividing portions, doubling recipes, adding and subtracting

  • Recognizing ingredients and learning their origin

  • Recognizing kitchen equipment and learning how to use it

  • Reading and following recipes in order to create the final dish

  • Following instructions - young children are particularly inclined to want to add more, jump stages or taste when they shouldn't

  • Different tastes, textures and foods

  • Time and patience

  • The science of cooking to see what happens to things when you apply heat or cold

  • Dexterity, fine motor skills and coordination: carrying or pouring without spilling, opening containers and packets, weighing

  •   www.bbcgoodfood.com

    Mary Richardson
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
    Email the author! mary@dvo.com

blog comments powered by Disqus