I love preparing meals with my two sons—it’s one of my favorite things to do. It allows us to spend quality time together while providing me with an opportunity to teach them about proper nutrition in a fun way. But did you know there are actually many benefits of cooking with kids?
So, whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or even just have some visiting houseguests with kids, let’s take a look at how you can include the children in your life with your meal prep in a fun, engaging way!
5 Benefits of Cooking with Kids
When we think of teaching children, we often envision classroom settings or socialization opportunities with their peers. But you can actually teach some major life, socialization, and even academic skills in the kitchen.
So, what can a child learn from cooking? Here are the top five benefits of cooking with kids, as I’ve discovered from encouraging my sons to join me in the kitchen.
1. Provides quality family time.
Life can be hectic and stressful, with our days rushing by. Before we know it, it’s dinnertime and we haven’t had a chance to connect with our kids as much as we’d like. I get it—I’ve been there. So, early on, I asked my boys to help me prepare dinner. And, believe it or not, those times in the kitchen hold some of my fondest memories, making this one of my favorite benefits of cooking with kids. We’re able to slow down and really connect. That one-on-one time is invaluable, and my sons love it so much that they now jump at the chance to spend some quality time with their mom making the night’s dinner or dessert.
2. Encourages communication.
When you have more than one “cook” in the kitchen, there’s one must-have: communication. You need to discuss what you’re making and assign tasks to each person. But I’ve also found that kids are more likely to open up and really communicate when they’re truly engaged in a joint activity with you, such as cooking. This, in turn, helps you to stay in-the-know and able to effectively parent and guide them, which is one of the great benefits of cooking with kids. And the science backs up my experience.
A review of over 60 studies published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent confirmed a link between parent-child communication and improved outcomes in children. Specifically, it stated that parents who stay informed about their child’s activities and behavior as well as structure their child’s environment (a process termed parental monitoring), better enables them to respond appropriately to misbehavior. Additionally, parental monitoring was associated with reductions in problem behavior over time. 
3. Encourages healthy eating habits.
It’s no secret that when you prepare your own food, you have more control over what goes into your body than if you dine out or grab a quick meal on the go. Why? Well, that’s because you know exactly what you’re putting into each meal. It also forces you to become more aware of each ingredient you’re eating—and the same is true for children. One of the major benefits of cooking with kids is teaching them about proper nutrition and how to cook a healthy, balanced meal.
In fact, a 2018 study revealed that young adults (aged 18–23) who reported having “very adequate” cooking skills (likely taught by their parents prior to adulthood) had better nutrition over 10 years later.  Additionally, a review of over 100 studies showed that children’s food preferences and overall diets reflect the foods that are available and accessible to them. Moreover, parental modeling and familiarity play an important role in the development of those food preferences.  So, by modeling certain food-related choices and behaviors, you’re basically setting up your kids for improved nutrition throughout their lives.
4. Builds basic academic skills.
Whether it’s sorting out servings, counting out utensils, measuring ingredients, or even reading from a cookbook, one of the major benefits of cooking with kids is helping to build upon their academic skills.
A 2017 study conducted by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that engaging a child in learning activities and meaningful conversations in the first few years of his or her life is linked to an increased likelihood of achieving later academic success.  And a 2018 study revealed that the more parents engage in mathematical activities (such as identifying numbers and sorting objects certain characteristics) with their children, the higher the children performed on certain numerical skills like counting. 
5. Supports confidence and self-esteem.
Children enjoy being included in everyday tasks and often feel an immense sense of pride in helping their parents. By inviting your child to help you cook and praising their efforts, you’ll not only instill in them lifelong positive memories, but also give them one of the most important benefits of cooking with kids: a great self-esteem boost. And the earlier you start, the better.
A groundbreaking study found that most children have a strong sense of self-esteem by age 5. It’s so strong, in fact, that it’s comparable in strength to that of adults.  Another fascinating study revealed that children tend to develop higher self-esteem when parents show interest in their children’s activities and share joyful experiences with them. This, in turn, makes children feel noticed and valued.  So, if you enjoy cooking and invite them to join you, odds are they will find it enjoyable as well and get a great boost of confidence from the experience.
Cooking Tasks for Kids
Now that you know the benefits of cooking with kids, you may find yourself wondering: At what age should a child start cooking? The answer here is that it really depends on each child’s skill level, attention span, and maturity. Here are a few suggestions grouped by age range.
- Adding pre-measured ingredients
- Combining salads
- Assembling pizzas
- Stirring batters and glazes
- Pounding doughs
- Measuring ingredients
- Pouring liquids
- Forming patties
- Mashing potatoes
- Using mixers
- There are many benefits of cooking with kids, including providing quality time, encouraging communication, building academic skills, and supporting confidence.
- Cooking with kids has actually been shown to encourage healthy lifelong eating habits.
- Because studies are increasingly showing the importance of parent-child communication and its impact on lifelong social and academic skills, spending quality one-on-one time with children, such as cooking together, should begin as early as possible.
- Depending on your child’s individual skill level, attention span, and maturity, you can choose from a variety of kitchen-related tasks specifically suited to his or her developmental stage.