Children are more likely to accept foods they select and help prepare, so encourage them to do as much as possible for themselves. Preschoolers quickly develop new skills and you may be surprised by how much your little chef can help in the kitchen.
At 2 years old, children are learning to use the large muscles in their arms and they can:
- Help “read” a cook book by turning the pages
- Tear salad greens into smaller pieces
- Snap green beans
- Wipe table tops
- Move pre-measured ingredients from one place to another
- Hand items to an adult
- Carry unbreakable items to the table
At 3 years old, children are learning to use their hands. They can now:
- Name and count foods
- Talk about cooking
- Rinse produce
- Pour liquids into a bowl
- Mix ingredients (use a large bowl to decrease mess)
- Squeeze citrus fruit
- Knead dough
- Spread soft spreads on firm bread
At 4-5 years old, children are learning to control smaller muscles in their fingers. They can now:
- Peel oranges, and hardboiled eggs
- Scrub firm fruit
- Cut soft fruit with a dull knife
- Form round shapes
- Crack and beat eggs
- Measure dry and liquid ingredients
- Mash cooked fruits and vegetables
- Help make sandwiches, and wraps
- Set the table
First efforts are an important step toward growth. Take photos of when your child snaps green beans, kneads dough or beats an egg for the first time and organize them in an album or scrapbook. Share the photos with your child at story time to show them how grown up they are.
Kids feel good about doing “grown-up” things, but remember to keep kitchen activities fun by choosing kid-friendly recipes and incorporating games and crafts such as personalizing an apron, and painting with vegetable stamps.
Remember to always be patient and be OK with messes. Think of it as an opportunity to teach about food safety and clean-up.
If you give preschoolers small kitchen jobs and praise their efforts, there is no doubt these activities will blossom into healthy habits later in life.
Reference: Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children: Provider Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program Supplement D: Create a Positive Meal Environment.