10 Easy Ways To Get Kids Excited About Cooking, According To Experts

With all the extra time we’re spending at home, wouldn’t it be great to inspire your kids’ creativity…in the kitchen? It may seem daunting but there are actually more ways to pique their interest and get them to pitch in than you’d think. From letting them set the menu to sampling strong spices to impromptu dance parties at the stove, experts share some tried and true ways to cultivate your child’s culinary curiosity.

Appeal to their minds as much as their taste buds.

“Rule #1, trust the kids, no matter how old they are,” declares Sylvie Berger, a New York-based chef who offers workshops she calls “culinary playgrounds for kids.” In other words, don’t think they’ll automatically reject a food just because they’re a kid. Instead, ask their opinion about a good recipe to try, start a conversation about what you might make with eggs, engage your child’s imagination. “Once they understand you trust them... and you’re cooking and discovering together,” says Berger, “that’s the way you bring them along.”

Tickle all their senses.

While cooking and food is about taste, it’s also so much more. “Have them describe a food by looking at it,” suggests Lauren Sharifi, a Massachusetts-based pediatric and family dietitian who works with many picky eaters. “Touch the food, smell the food, hear what sounds it makes.” This sensory-based exploration lets kids engage with food in new ways that could change their perspective and ignite their imagination.

a little boy that is eating some food: kid tasting lemon zest

Work with their obsessions.

If your child is over the moon about sweet potatoes, explore all the ways of making it. Share a raw sweet potato with them, then slice and roast it, mash it, do a baked option that layers on other ingredients. Whether it’s a sweet potato (ingredient) or soup (dish), show that one item can have a millions permutations, which can inspire more exploring.

Make smart pairings.

Getting your kids excited to make a pizza might not be too difficult. But how do you stir up the same enthusiasm for cooking, say, broccoli? “The easiest way to introduce veggies to children is to mix them with something yummy,” says Berger. That could be eggs, cheese or dough that brings the yum factor and, with it, a more open mind. “It helps them understand that it’s not just a piece a broccoli that we have to shove in our mouths,” says Berger, “that you can make all sorts of magic things with these vegetables.”

Let things get messy.

Throw perfection out the window when cooking with kids. Don’t expect the meal, much less the kitchen, to be pretty. Alexis Newman, a dietitian in the Philadelphia area, realized this while making jambalaya with her own three-year-old when the seasonings went flying. “If I want her to like and enjoy food, it’s going to be a messy process and I just have to be okay with it,” she says. This attitude is not only healthy, it promotes a fun atmosphere that lets you both loosen up and enjoy the experience more.

Spice it up.

It may be counterintuitive, but don’t play it safe. Bland is bland, no matter how old you are. “Spices are fantastic with kids,” says Berger, pointing out that extreme flavors appeal to their adventurous spirits—albeit with a forewarning of their potential strength, and water bottles at the ready. Engage their noses first by putting spices, like cumin, cloves, and cayenne in a paper bag to smell and then having them blind test a tiny amount “Whether they like it or not, it’s surprising for their taste buds, and they love that.”

Give them control.

To get kids excited to cook, think beyond the stove. “Have them help decide what recipes to make for dinner one night a week and build on it,” suggests Melissa Halas, a dietitian in Pasadena, CA and founder of SuperKids Nutrition, which promotes healthy eating in kids and families. They can help with the grocery list, set the table, choose the music you listen (and dance) to while you’re cooking. As Halas points out, “Children get excited when they feel responsible.”

a group of people sitting at a table with a cake: mom and kids cooking together in the kitchen

Turn over the tools.

Who wouldn’t have fun with something called the “crinkle cutter”? Though gadgets like this one, which cuts everything from veggies to cheese with a cute zig-zag pattern, make prep work feel like play, so can the most basic kitchen tools. Think: rolling pins, measuring cups, vegetable peelers, even aprons and oven mitts. If you are working with younger children, opt for plastic since it’s lighter and bring in lots of color.

Start them young.

“I don’t think people realize they can start getting their kids involved at a really young age,” says Sharifi. Even as wee as a year and a half, they’re learning about and exploring food, making it a great time to expose them to the process and provoke their curiosity. Newman used to hold her baby on her hip while she cooked, and now her three-year-old daughter drags a chair up to the counter wanting to help with dinner.

Model good (food) behavior.

Just like other areas of parenting, your kids are picking up on your cues. “If you are excited about cooking, your kids will be too,” Halas says. Experimenting, sharing, and learning is part of the whole process. Share your enthusiasm about seeing them in the kitchen, offer positive feedback as they chop, measure, and stir, and, afterwards, reinforce what a good job they did.

Food and Recipes Fun Diet and Nutrition Health

Download our App