In the hustle and bustle of a busy summer schedule, cooking can often be relegated to nothing more than a means to an end. Parents and caregivers are busy shuttling kids from camp to play dates to back-to-school shopping –not to mention juggling work and household responsibilities. So when dinner time comes around, it’s no wonder the focus is on just getting kids fed. That said, cooking can be more than a chore. In fact, cooking in the kitchen can strengthen 5 critical aspects of healthy development in kids. Here’s how!
Strengthens Executive Functioning Skills:
Executive functioning skills help us with organization, attention, planning, problem-solving, and impulse-control. In other words, executive functioning is the control center for how we behave. And like any skill, we have to learn and practice executive functioning to get better at it.
Cooking is a great way to learn, practice, and refine these skills (Farmer&Cotter, 2021). For example, every time we wait for fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies to cool before we eat them, we are practicing a critical executive functioning skill – impulse control! (Here’s a great Sesame Street song about waiting for cookies, Sesame Street, 2013.) Other ways to practice executive functioning skills while cooking include: following a recipe; making a grocery list; gathering ingredients, equipment, and utensils; following a recipe; timing; and measuring.
Promotes Bonding and Social Skills:
Our relationship with our parents sets the stage for how we relate to others in the future. That’s why bonding is so important. Through our early relationship with our parents, we learn we are worthy of love and attention (basis of self-esteem) and we learn we are supported and safe (basis of security). From this secure base we can confidently explore and connect with the world (and the people) outside of our home.
Cooking has been shown to support bonding and social skills development by promoting a “sense of belonging, a sharing of common interests, and an opportunity to enjoy the company of others” (Farmer, Touchton-Leonard, and Ross, 2018). When parents and caregivers cook with children, they are sending their kids a message that you are worthy of my time and you are capable of learning new skills. Additionally, cooking gives kids an opportunity to practice important social skills they need to make and keep friendships. For example, when we invite our kids to help us pick out a recipe, they are practicing listening, communicating, and reasoning–all of which are skills we need to play and work well with others! Other social skills caregivers can promote in the kitchen include: cooperation, turn-taking, communication, sharing, and following limits.
As we know, bonding doesn’t stop at infancy. Connecting with our kids is an ongoing endeavor and the activities we do with them need to evolve as our kids continue to grow. At the end of this article, you will find a list of how to engage kids in the kitchen at any age. Regardless of what age we invite our kids into the kitchen, the key is to cook together to get the most bang for your buck!
Boosts Self-Esteem & Confidence:
As described above, cooking with our kids can inherently boost self-esteem because it promotes meaningful interactions between kids and parents. However, cooking also provides opportunities to master new skills and can promote a sense of achievement (Farmer&Cotter, 2021) – all of which helps enhance self-esteem. Parents and caregivers can further build confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of achievement while cooking by using the following guidelines:
Set clear expectations: Let kids know what you are doing together, what their responsibilities are, what they can and cannot do (or touch), and what the rules are in advance.
Build in success: Choose recipes or cooking tasks that are developmentally appropriate for your child (see the guideline below).
Give children choices: Let them choose from a few carefully selected recipes, flavors, or colors.
Give your kiddo a responsibility: When we cook, we also need to clean. Kids can help out with cleaning in a variety of ways: gathering dirty dishes, placing dishes in the sink, washing and drying dishes, or wiping down counters.
Help children accept mistakes: When a mistake happens in the kitchen (for example, mistaking a tablespoon for a teaspoon or measuring a cup of salt instead of sugar!), use it as an opportunity to tolerate difficult feelings and to learn, grow, and laugh together!
Enhances Fine Motor Skills:
Fine motor skills refer to how we use the small muscles in our hands, fingers, and wrists to make precise movements. We need fine motor skills for all kinds of daily routines, like tying our shoes, brushing our teeth, playing catch, and writing. The development of fine motor skills begins in infancy and continues throughout childhood. Cooking is a fantastic opportunity to strengthen kids’ fine motor skills, even at a young age. For example, a 15-month old may not be able to help out in the kitchen, but give the kiddo a few plastic cups and dried beans and they can practice picking up small objects, pouring, and scooping. Practicing fine motor skills in the kitchen can help children develop the dexterity, precision, and coordination they will need for day-to-day tasks at home, school, and in play.
Promotes Literacy Skills:
My great grandmother used to say, “If you can read, you can cook.” Cooking, in many ways, is a practice in language and mathematics literacy. Cooking requires the ability to read recipes, write grocery lists, follow instructions in a specific order, communicate, count, measure, weigh, and sometimes add, subtract, multiply, and divide!
For many kids growing up, cooking in the kitchen is the first introduction to fractions (think: ½ teaspoon). In other words, cooking is a practical application of so many literacy skills taught in school and can answer the frequently asked question, “When will I ever need to know this?” Encourage the use of literacy skills in the kitchen by giving kids the responsibility to read recipes out loud, make grocery lists, measure ingredients, double or half recipes, and describe the flavors, scents, textures, and appearance of what they are cooking.
After a long day of childcare and work, preparing a meal can easily become an after-thought. With a little advance planning, however, cooking can be a fantastic way to bond and support your kiddo’s learning and grow that any age. Happy cooking!
How to Get Kids Involved in the Kitchen by Age: 0–2 Years Old
Practicing holding utensils
Practicing pouring and scooping
3–5 Years Old
Rolling into a ball
6–9 Years Old
Rolling (with a rolling pin)
Making a shopping list
9 Years Old + (with instruction and supervision)
Following a recipe
Use of kitchen equipment (oven, stove, electric mixers, etc.)
Calculating how to double or half a recipe
References Farmer, N & Cotter EW. (2021). Well-Being and Cooking Behavior: Using the Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA) Model as a Theoretical Framework. Frontiers in Psychology, 12,560-578.https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.560578
Farmer, N,Touchton-Leonard, K, & Ross, A. (2018). Psychosocial Benefits of Cooking Interventions: A Systematic Review. Health Education & Behavior, 45(2), 167-180. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198117736352
Sesame Street. (2013, August 5). Me Want It (But Me Wait). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PnbKL3wuH4.
Meghan Seradsky, LSW is a psychotherapist at Lukin Center Psychotherapy focused on working with children, tweens, teens, and young adults experiencing a wide range of challenges, including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), low self-esteem, emotion dysregulation, social/relational issues, and unsafe thoughts. Passionate about empowering her clients, Meghan takes a collaborative, strengths-based approach to helping youth, young adults, and families use their unique skills, strengths, and knowledge to make positive, sustainable change. She blends solution-focused, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), narrative, and play therapy techniques to tailor her practice to clients’ individual personalities and needs. She works to target ineffective behaviors, habits, thoughts, and beliefs that get in the way of clients achieving their goals. A typical session with Meghan can include a mix of traditional talk, games, art, role-play, movement, music, and writing – all designed to help clients practice new skills and develop new insights. Meghan’s clinical experience includes providing trauma-informed individual, group, and family therapy to youth in residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs. Meghan earned her master’s degree in social work at Boston College.
20 Wilsey Square | Ridgewood, NJ 07450 | (551) 427-2458
60 Grand Avenue, Suite 104 | Englewood, NJ 07631 | (201) 403-1284
80 River Street, Suite 302 | Hoboken, NJ 07030 | (917) 903-1901
277 Grove Street, Suite 202 | Jersey City, NJ 07302 | (201) 577-8124
51 Upper Montclair Plaza | Montclair, NJ 07034 | (973) 787-4470
128 S. Euclid Avenue | Westfield, NJ 07090 | (908) 509-8336