Cooking with your child – So many learning opportunities

Cooking with your child – So many learning opportunities

By: Robyn Floyd

Kitchen activities are a fabulous way to help your children learn basic cooking skills while also absorbing language, recognising words and symbols, and practising measurement and number skills. Cooking can be a great way to make Mother’s Day treats, gifts or a fun family activity.

The list of developmental learning skills that cooking can assist with is endless. These include; sequencing and prioritising through following recipe directions, understanding the cause and effect of solids and liquids, hygiene and cleanliness, social skills, and developing good organisational skills. Cooking encourages creativity and develops motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. It is an activity where the end result, as well as the process, is important. It has to taste good! Cooking skills also develop healthy eating habits that are carried through into adulthood.1 Parents transferring cooking skills to their children has reduced in recent years due to a range of factors. However, the importance of these skills is back in focus as health issues increase.1

After cooking with my daughters and numerous nieces and nephews, I also know that when siblings are cooking together, there is no end of opportunities for ‘teachable moments’. Learning negotiation and teamwork skills will be useful in later life, as well as immediately… when there is only one mixing bowl!

Of course, eating the results of your child’s endeavour is cause for a social event, even if it is an afternoon in the cubby house with assorted toys and freshly baked biscuits.  Here are some tips for making your child’s early cooking efforts an enjoyable experience for both of you.

Starting with the saucepan cupboard

Teach your toddler that cooking is fun and allow them to have their own cooking drawer, complete with a safety gadget to stop fingers getting jammed!  While you are cooking, they can be having fun with inexpensive plastic containers and old kitchen utensils. Alternatively, you can buy or make a kitchen play-set with recycled materials and your imagination. Make time to play ‘cooking’ with your child.

Sharing the excitement of creating safely

Children learn best by example. Talk about what you are doing and why you are doing it while you are preparing food. Tell them why you need to whisk the egg. Show them what the egg looks like before it is whisked and then after.  Talk and demonstrate kitchen safety constantly. Make sure you emphasise what is hot and what is not safe to touch (and why!) At the times when it is unsafe for direct involvement, your ‘junior-cook’ should be watching from a safe position close to the action.

Making something that doesn’t take too much time is important, as children like quick results. Parent patience is necessary when disasters occur ­– the egg… or the entire bowl, knocked off the bench etc. However, take a deep breath… You can choose to see this as yet another learning opportunity or even an opportunity to have a laugh together. After all, cooking with your preschooler is more about your time together than the result.

Allow your child to help with small jobs such as tipping in ingredients, stirring the mixture, washing the vegetables and passing utensils to you. Of course, good habits begin early, so encourage your child to help with the clean-up.

Age-appropriate skills for junior-cooks

  • Pizza:Place pre-cut ingredients on the pizza base
  • Fruit salad:Mix the fruit you have chopped. The ‘junior-cook’ could peel and cut banana slices with a plastic knife
  • Cakes and biscuits:Help pour, then mix ingredients that you have pre-measured
  • Salads:Tear the lettuce for salads
  • Biscuits:Roll biscuit dough and cut biscuit dough with cookie cutters
  • Crumbs: Crush crackers and biscuits in a paper bag to make crumbs
  • Dip:Dip foods that require dipping

Cooking is a multi-sensory experience and whether or not you explicitly ‘teach’ your children, they will learn through their senses. Talk about and ask questions to help build sensory skills through tasting, hearing, touching, smelling and seeing different foods. Talk about flavours can you taste in the dish. Is it salty, spicy, sugary? What noises do you hear when mixing, grating, sifting, melting? What does biscuit dough feel like when you have rolled it out? How does the food smell before and after you cook it? Is the colour of the cake when it’s baked different to the colour of the cake mixture?

Simple recipes for junior-cooks

You can find hundreds of simple recipes to cook with your child online, however here are a few favourites:

Creating arty bread: For a blank canvas, spread slices of bread with cream cheese or nut butter (as long as there are no nut allergies). Put a range of toppings in small bowls to be arranged decoratively to make a picture. Try; sliced bananas, apple dices, strawberry slices, sliced grapes, alfalfa, bean shoots, grated carrot, zucchini slices or cucumber slices.

Milk shakes: Place a cup of milk (or milk alternative), half a cup of fruit that has been cut into small pieces (banana, strawberries, peaches or a soft fruit) into a blender.  Blend, stop and add a scoop of yoghurt into the blender mix. Blend again and enjoy.

Mini pizzas: Spoon a tablespoon of pizza sauce on to mini pita bread.  Make your own pizza-to-go with cheese and vegetables of your choice.  Bake in the oven at 180C for about ten minutes or until the cheese is melted and the pita is toasty.

Apple Muffins: Sift 2 cups plain flour and 4 teaspoons of baking powder into a bowl. Add ¼ cup of sugar. Grate a green apple into a bowl. Mix an egg, 1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind and 60 g of melted butter. Add apple and egg mixture all at once and stir. It might look a bit lumpy. Fill greased muffin tins and bake in the oven at 220C for 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy cooking with your child and have fun. One day the child who has made you rubbery scrambled eggs for Mother’s Day or your birthday, will have mastered the art of cooking and may be serving you a gourmet meal. It just takes time, patience and enthusiasm.

Robyn Floyd (M.Ed. (Deakin) B.Ed. (Monash) ACEC Teacher of the Year 2008)
Robyn has been  a teacher of primary school age children for many years. She has seen the many long term educational and social benefits of activities in the early years that promote readiness for learning through fun activities such as cooking.


  1. Lavelle F, Mooney E, Coffey S, Lydon R, Dean M, McCloat A. Fun with food—A parent-child community cooking intervention reduces parental fear and increases children’s perceived competence. Appetite. 2023;180:1-8.