Tips to get the kids involved in the kitchen!

Get the Kids Involved

Below are tips from the National Institute for Health and the USDA My Plate website for getting kids in the kitchen and helping with picky eaters. Who needs more frustration?

Getting Kids in the Kitchen

Cooking with your kids is a good way to help them build healthy eating habits.

Get them interested

Most kids enjoy helping in the kitchen. While they help you cook, you can talk to them about healthy foods. Children like to eat the food they make. This is a good way to get them to try new healthy foods.

Let them help

You can show your kids how to help you prepare meals. Here are ways that young kids can help in the kitchen:

Have realistic expectations of your child. These are general guidelines.

2-year-olds can:
  • Wipe tabletops
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Tear lettuce or greens
  • Break cauliflower or broccoli into pieces
  • Carry ingredients from one place to another
3-year-olds can:
  • Knead and shape dough
  • Mix or pour ingredients
  • Shake liquids in a covered container to mix them
  • Apply soft spreads
  • Put things in the trash
4-year-olds can:
  • Peel oranges or hard-boiled eggs
  • Mash bananas or cooked beans with a fork
  • Put parsley and green onions with kid-safe scissors
  • Set the table
5 to 6-year-olds can:
  • Measure ingredients
  • Use an egg beater

Be sure to have kids wash their hands before and after helping in the kitchen. Be patient with spills and mistakes. Remember that the goal is to help your kids learn about healthy eating.

Let them be creative

Set out three or four healthy foods, and let your kids make a new snack or sandwich from them. Use foods your children can eat without choking.

Start with:
  • A new kind of bread (whole grain or rye)
  • Whole grain crackers or graham crackers
  • Mini rice cakes or popcorn cakes
  • Small bagels
  • Small pieces of whole-wheat pita bread
Spreads could include:
  • Fat-free or low-fat cream cheese or cheese spread
  • Fat-free or low-fat peanut butter
  • Bean dip
  • Jelly with no sugar added
Toppings could include:
  • Slices of apple or banana
  • Raisins or other dried fruit
  • Strawberries
  • Slices of cucumber or squash
  • Cherry tomatoes cut in small pieces

As you help your kids make the new snack or sandwich talk about why it is healthy. Point out each food group in the snack or sandwich. Explain that eating a mix of foods is good for you. Ask why the snack or sandwich tastes good. Is it sweet, juicy, chewy, or crunchy?

Typical picky eating behaviors

Many children will show one or more of the following behaviors during the preschool years. In most cases, these will go away with time.

  • Your child may refuse a food based on a certain color or texture. For example, he or she could refuse foods that are red or green, contain seeds, or are squishy.
  • For a period of time, your preschooler may only eat a certain type of food. Your child may choose 1 or 2 foods he or she likes and refuse to eat anything else.
  • Sometimes your child may waste time at the table and seem interested in doing anything but eating.
  • Your child may be unwilling to try new foods. It is normal for your preschooler to prefer familiar foods and be afraid to try new things.

How to cope with picky eating

Your child’s picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school age. Try the following tips to help you deal with your child’s picky eating behavior in a positive way.

  • Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them pick out fruits and veggies at the store.
  • Have your child help you prepare meals. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, scrub veggies, or help stir.
  • Offer choices. Rather than ask, “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”
  • Enjoy each other while eating family meals together. Talk about fun and happy things. If meals are times for family arguments, your child may learn unhealthy attitudes toward food.
  • Offer the same foods for the whole family. Serve the same meal to adults and kids. Let them see you enjoy healthy foods. Talk about the colors, shapes, and textures on the plate.

Last updated May 9, 2024