Make Meals and Messes with Kids in the Kitchen this Summer
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School is out for the year and kids everywhere are excited to start their summers! Whatever the kids are doing, let them practice making meals and snacks for themselves this summer. This gives them autonomy with their food choices, lets them develop self-sufficiency, and may encourage them to explore new foods.

Not sure what is age-appropriate? Read the Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks infographic from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics talking about kitchen tasks for ages 3-12.

Supervised and Free-Play Cooking

For younger kids, it is important to supervise their time in the kitchen to prevent accidents. And it is also important to let younger kids play and learn about foods. Yes, this means kitchen messes and slower cooking than what an adult can do, so practice patience.

Kids might try:

Food flower made with sliced strawberries as petals, blueberries as flower center, and cucumber slices as stem and leaves
Photo by Caitlin Mellendorf, Illinois Extension
  • Making food art. Any number of foods can make simple art, like this food flower with sliced strawberries as petals, blueberries as the center, and cucumber for the stem and leaves.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables. Just like washing hands, we wash produce for 20 seconds under cool water (no soap needed on the fruits and veggies.) Let kids hold produce in clean hands or use a colander to support the weight.
  • Measuring and mixing recipes. Let kids learn about measuring cups, measuring spoons, and easy-to-use tools like whisks and spoons. The Peanut Butter Pumpkin Dip from Eat.Move.Save. at Illinois Extension is a favorite!

Unsupervised and No-Cook Meals

Turkey sandwich wrap on white plate with carrots sticks and raspberries
Turkey Sandwich Wrap

For kids that are comfortable in the kitchen, but are not ready to use hot cooking methods, keep ingredients around for them to try no-cook meals. (Families may want to buy kid knives, which are designed to be safer to use than traditional knives.)

Kids might make:

Supervised and Unsupervised Hot Cooking

Two tortilla and egg cups on white plate on blue polkadot background
Tortilla Cups with Eggs

When kids are ready to cook on hot equipment, such as an oven, stovetop, microwave, or toaster, start by talking about safety. Tips like no metal in microwaves and using dry pot holders and oven mitts will be important to prevent accidents.

Kids might make:

Happy cooking and cheers to kitchen messes!

Post originally published in 2014; content updated in 2021.

Healthy Eats and Repeat
How much difference is there between canned and frozen foods? How should you cook venison? When is the best time to buy avocados? Get answers to these questions as well as other tips, tutorials and recipes for common kitchen foods and items with University of Illinois Extension Nutrition & Wellness Educator Caitlin Mellendorf. Build your best life. Trust Extension to help.

Caitlin Mellendorf is an Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon and Piatt Counties in Central Illinois. She is a Registered Dietitian and her work focuses on helping community members gain the knowledge, skills and tools to live healthier, more nutritious lifestyles. This includes providing programs and answering questions about heart health, diabetes, food safety, food preservation, grocery shopping and cooking. You can reach Caitlin by email at chuth2@illinois.edu or call 217.877.6042.