Meal Preparation For Kids - Day 2 Day Parenting

Meal Preparation For Kids: How To Get Them Involved

CME WebsitesChild Routines, Cooking Together, Meal Preparation, Mealtime, Parent Routines

It can be exhausting to complete all of the tasks and demands of the day. Throw children into the mix and things can be even more challenging. Meal preparation is one routine that does not have to be one of the day’s stressors! When it’s time to get a meal together, keeping children occupied is tricky. They are getting hungry and want attention. It might be tempting to park them in front of the TV or tablet, but even this may not buy you enough time to get that meal prepared. Involving kids in meal preparation is a win-win for the child and caregiver, and the great news is that children of practically any age and ability can be involved somehow.

Some may ask “why go through the extra work?” The answer is simple. Having children involved in meal preparation is enormously more enriching than the TV or tablet ever could be. It is an activity that has the potential to engage all of the senses and help teach children a huge variety of different skills. Children who are involved in meal preparation are more likely to eat the food prepared, develop healthier habits, and experience greater self-efficacy and self-esteem (Van der Horst, Ferrage, & Rytz, 2014; Chu, Farmer, Fung, Kuhle, Storey, & Veugelers, 2013; Mayo Clinic, 2014). The learning opportunities are endless, and if you were going to spend the time to make the meal anyway- then why not have your child help?


Keeping safety in mind throughout, first let’s talk about where in the kitchen is a good place to involve children. If you have a young baby who is not yet sitting, you might have some kind of seat she can be in and place that seat in the kitchen with you. A baby carrier, sling, or wrap is another option to try. The baby will still get the experiences of the different sights, sounds, and smells that fill the kitchen while you cook.

For children who are sitting, crawling, walking, and beyond, there are plenty of places to involve them in the kitchen. Some options include sitting on the floor, sitting in a highchair, sitting in a booster or chair at the table, standing in a learning tower at the counter or sink, stand on a chair (with supervision) at sink or counter, or bringing in a small children’s table and chairs. Once you’ve chosen where your child can safely join in to help, the fun part begins. Think about what skill you may want to focus on. Is it learning colors? Maybe it’s scooping with a spoon? Or it could just be to get messy and have fun. Remember to keep the tasks involving heat and sharp objects for an adult. Here are some ideas to help get you started:


  • With plastic containers or spice containers (i.e. bright jar or sprinkles turned into a rattle)
  • With kitchen tools such as pots, pans, measuring cups, spoons on the floor
  • With extra food materials such as squish, stir, pull apart, poke, smell, shake

Retrieve items

  • Reach up high, or down low
  • Ask child the to locate the item (i.e. Please grab an apple)
  • Label colors or locate colors (i.e. Lemon- find me something yellow, please grab the yellow lemon)
  • Work on counting (i.e. We need 3 carrots)


  • Spread, scoop, pour or stir (dressing on salad, jelly on bread, sauce on spaghetti, scramble an egg, etc)
  • Put items onto plate, put plate in microwave, push buttons
  • Put items onto cool pan or into cool pot before it goes into oven or on stove
  • Tear or break items instead of cut or chop such as lettuce, celery, peppers
  • Sprinkle spices or cheese

Wash or Clean up

  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Throw items in trash as meal preparation goes on
  • Wash dirty dishes and kitchen utensils as they become dirty in soapy water
  • Wipe up spills, counter, table

If you’re looking to work on specific skills, here are a few areas and ideas to target them:

Fine Motor

  • Scoop
  • Stir
  • Pour
  • Open containers and lids
  • Pick up small pieces of food, put in bowl or pot

Gross Motor

  • Squat  or bend to retrieve items
  • Crawl or walk to retrieve items
  • Push in chairs at table
  • Balance in sitting while completing a task, playing with kitchen items
  • Reaching to retrieve items, pulling refrigerator open, climbing onto learning tower or chair

Speech and language

  • Narrate sounds and actions (pop, whoosh, bang, stir, wash)
  • Label items
  • Offer choices of items or foods to help with (i.e. do you want the spoon or fork, stir or pour, wash or dry)
  • Make up songs to sing while you cook (i.e. this is the way we roll the dough, roll the dough, roll the dough)
  • Put two words together (yellow lemon, green pepper)


  • Direction following – can have as few or as many steps as you like (i.e. take out the broccoli, put it in the bowl, then stir OR simply take out the broccoli)
  • Sequencing steps
  • Count
  • Identify colors
  • Match colors of foods, utensils, etc. (red apple and red pepper, green grapes into a green bowl, stir white cool whip with a white spoon)

Sensory Processing

  • Smell foods, talk about how they are different before cooked and after
  • Look at foods and kitchen tools, talk about colors, shapes, sizes, texture (looks soft, looks wet, looks rough)
  • Sounds that foods make
  • Taste the foods as you go
  • Touch the foods and talk about how it feels (i.e. it is wet, cold, dry, hard, squishy), sink with soapy water and dishes

Use meal preparation as an opportunity to spend quality time with your child to help him or her explore, learn and have fun all while you are still accomplishing one of the many must dos throughout the day. Remember you can adapt most activities to match the skills of your child. Be creative, and most importantly have fun!

By: Lindsey White, MOTR/L


Chu, Y. L., Farmer, A., Fung, C., Kuhle, S., Storey, K. E., & Veugelers, P.J. (2013). Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children [Abstract]. Public Health Nutrition, 16(1), 108-112. Retrieved from fileId=S1368980012001218

Mayo Clinic. (2014, September 16). Children’s nutrition: 10 Tips for picky eaters. Retrieved from health/art-20044948?pg=1

Van der Horst, K., Ferrage, A., & Rytz, A. (2014). Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake. Appetite, 79(1), 18-24. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.03.030