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If you teach kids properly, they can be a huge help in the kitchen. It may feel overwhelming (and messy) to get them started, but there are key cooking skills that kids can and should have by the time they are 10 years old.

By Samantha Lande
April 21, 2020
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Mother and son mix to make dough
Credit: Hello Africa / Getty Images

The thought of teaching your kids to cook can be a dream for some parents and a nightmare for others. If you are comfortable in the kitchen, it can be a joy to teach toddlers how to create their own food, but if you generally don't cook (or don't like a big mess!) it can be a frustrating experience. Though it doesn't have to be! There are plenty of basic skills a kid ages 10 and under can learn in the kitchen. A little upfront help can produce independent kids in the kitchen.

Here are the skills they should know by age 10:

It Can Start with a Pinch of Salt

Heather Staller teaches at a cooking school for young kids, has her own toddler oriented cookbook, and has two boys of her own, so she's well aware that young toddlers can be at very different levels in the kitchen. So she simply starts with a pinch of salt. "My motto is, get them involved in the kitchen one pinch of salt at a time," Staller says. This can be an actual pinch of salt or having them help with a tiny part of a recipe just to get them comfortable in the kitchen.

Measure and Mix

Measuring and mixing are two simple ways to have kids help in the kitchen. Two-years-old is not too early to have a kid help mix, even if it's hand over hand with you. Once they are independent enough to do it on their own, make sure they are holding onto the bowl while they mix. Measuring can also be a great way for school-age kids to apply math skills like fractions to their cooking. Like anything, practice makes perfect.

Food Prep

Part of cooking is knowing how to prepare the food. Toddlers can help with washing any fruits and vegetables and mashing bananas or avocado. Slightly older kids can scrub potatoes, peel vegetables, and shred cheese. If your kids are old enough to read, you can have them gather everything that is needed for the recipe from your pantry and the fridge as well.

Kitchen Safety

The kitchen can be a really fun place but also a dangerous place if you don't know kitchen safety. Kids as young as two can be taught that a stove and oven is hot. School-aged kids can be introduced to oven mitts for taking things out of the toaster or moving a boiling pot of water. If your kids are old enough to be trusted without your supervision, it's a good idea to review the safety of any of the appliances they may be using including things like the blender, toaster, and microwave.

Basic Knife Skills

Letting your kids use a knife can seem scary at first, but it doesn't have to be. There are great nylon knives available that can actually cut softer food but they don't cut skin. Staller will set up small kids with a nylon knife and cutting board and have them cut their own banana for snack time. Older kids can cut up fruit for smoothies or dice up vegetables for stir-fry or soups. If you feel comfortable, some older kids can graduate to using a real metal knife for more advanced prep depending on their fine motor skills.

The Incredible Egg

Cracking eggs is a great skill for kids to learn — they feel so accomplished when they master it. The age they start depends on the kid. If your two or three year old still licks their hands after cooking, you may want to wait. If they can understand the food safety elements (don't stick your hand in the bowl, wash your hands immediately after) then cracking eggs is a good starter skill. Older kids can take that a step further by mixing their eggs and making scrambled eggs on their own (with some supervision at the stove for younger kids). If they want to try to get more advanced they can try their hand at a sunny side up egg as well, then graduate to a poached egg — there are so many options. It's a good way to help them understand the science of cooking too, showing how different techniques can drastically change the same ingredient.

Basic Meals

Yes, even kids under five can make their own meals. Sandwiches are a great way to start. Teach them how to assemble a sandwich and when they are able, graduate them to spreading peanut butter and jelly. Let them pour their own cereal and milk. Slightly older kids can use the toaster for waffles and when they are ready they can even mix up pancakes and cook them on a griddle. Mixing their own smoothies or boiling water for pasta are good starter tasks for older kids as well. There are plenty of five ingredient or less recipes that they can try their hand at by age seven if they are showing interest in doing more. If they have interest in bigger, more challenging recipes, save it for the weekend when you can help guide them.

Clean Up, Pick Up, Put Away

"Making a mess is part of learning to cook," says Staller. That doesn't mean you can't teach your kids that cleaning up is also part of the gig. If you teach them to clean along the way — wipe up flour when it overflows a measuring cup, take peels and skins to the garbage when you peel something, wipe down the counter — it can help. The same goes for washing dishes when you finish cooking and even loading the dishwasher. If it becomes another step in their cooking it won't feel as daunting.

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