Children mature at different rates, and as such, you’ll need to consider the ability of your child when it comes to learning basic kitchen skills, handling sharp objects, and getting involved in cooking. – Andrea Hill, BASc, MSc, Holistic Nutrition Educator

3 to 5 Years-Old

  • Can do basic tasks that do not require a long attention span: help assemble a sandwich, layer lasagna, top a pizza, sprinkle decorations on cupcakes or cookies.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables.

  • Mix or stir batter in a bowl (a large bowl with a non-stick base can be helpful here, as well as a spoon with a large, easier-to-grip handle).

  • Lightly knead dough (parents, you’ll need to step in to complete the task).

  • Cut softer foods with a butter knife or plastic knife (i.e. butter, mushrooms, strawberries).

  • Spread jelly, butter and nut/seed butter on bread.

  • Help measure ingredients (i.e. spoon ingredients onto a scale, pour cup of ingredients into a mixing bowl).

  • Use a cookie cutter.

  • Use a sieve (offer instruction to “tap sieve over bowl” versus shaking sieve).

  • Tear fresh herbs for garnishing meals and tear lettuce for salads.

6 to 8 Years-Old

  • Roll and shape cookies.

  • Help plan a meal.

  • Set the table.

  • Can be introduced to sharper kitchen cutting tools such as a child-safe kitchen knife designed for young cooks, or child scissors for snipping herbs.

  • Measure ingredients with less supervision (as children learn to read and do basic mathematics, this is a great opportunity to practise the skill).

  • Beat ingredients with a whisk.

  • Use a box grater to shred cheese (with supervision).

  • Learn some kitchen cooking basics like boiling pasta and eggs or making a grilled cheese sandwich.

  • Find ingredients in the cupboard.

  • Grease and line a cake tin or baking sheet.

9 to 12 Years-Old

  • Plan a family meal (at this stage, kids can start to get more involved with planning and take on activities with a bit more independence).

  • Follow a basic recipe, (i.e. salad, pancakes or spaghetti).

  • Peel and chop up fruits and vegetables.

  • Cook on the stove top with some instruction and supervision (i.e. how to sauté vegetables, pan-fry an egg, boil rice).

  • Learn to use specialised hand tools such as a can opener and/or garlic press.

  • Use an oven with supervision, (i.e. putting foods in the oven and removing them.

  • Use a sharper knife, i.e. chef’s knife.)

  • Learn to operate some specialty appliances, such as a food processor, blender, mixer, and waffle maker.

13 to 17 Years-Old

  • Supervision at this stage is no longer needed, as most teenagers should be able to decide what to eat and cook most foods for themselves.

  • Prepare more complex recipes from start to finish.

  • Plan ahead and make a shopping list.

  • Understand food hygiene (i.e. knowing to not use the same cutting board when handling raw and cooked meat, or raw meat and vegetables; washing hands before and after handling raw meat).

  • Finely tune their knife skills (chopping, dicing, mincing).

  • Learn how to use an outdoor grill to cook steak, chicken, pork and vegetables.

  • Use a slow cooker.

  • Should be able to boil water in a pan (for boiling pasta, rice, potatoes and steaming vegetables).

  • Should know how to cook eggs (boiling, scrambling, omelette, pan-frying).

  • Should know when meat is fully cooked (ground beef for chili, meat sauce, taco filling, chicken breast for stir-fries, salads and sandwich wraps).

18+ Years-Old

  • Should be on their way to self-sufficiency when it comes to cooking and meal prep.

  • Should have a solid understanding of common cooking methods and ingredients.

  • With more confidence and cooking experience, should be able to adjust favourite recipes to suit their tastes.

  • Before they leave home for university, discuss shopping strategies for when planning weekly meals on their own, i.e. keeping basic pantry staples stocked for pulling simple meals together from canned beans and tuna, jarred tomatoes, wholegrain pasta, rice and frozen vegetables.

  • Know how long to store fresh, perishable ingredients.

  • Reinforce the importance of proper food safety practices such as food storage and kitchen hygiene.