Cooking with Preschool-Age Children

Appropriate Cooking Tasks by Age

Tasks for two-to three year olds:

  • Stir with a spoon
  • Shake ingredients in a plastic container with a tight cover
  • Use a butter knife to spread cream cheese, jelly or peanut butter
  • Mash boiled fruits and vegetables after they have cooled
  • Combine ingredients in a large bowl and mix
  • Make no-cook recipes such as sandwiches and salads
  • Practice using whisks, spatulas, strainers, colanders, wooden spoons, cookie cutters, and rolling pins.

Three-to-four year olds can safely do all of the above plus:

  • Use plastic measuring spoons and cups marked to the proper amounts
  • Cut soft fruits and boiled vegetables with plastic knives
  • Combine dry and wet ingredients using forks, whisks, spoons or rotary beaters
  • Pour liquids into containers with large openings such as colanders, blenders, or wide-mouth bowls
  • Use non-electric food grinders, choppers, and juicers

Four-to-five year olds can safely do all of the above plus:

  • Use a heat source placed on a low surface (with adult supervision
  • Use a hand mixer (with adult supervision)
  • Cut flat ingredients with a plastic serrated knifes (under adult supervision)
  • Be taught to use vegetable peelers, cheese graters, and nut crackers

Choking Hazards

Preschool-age children do not have the chewing skills necessary to break down many foods

To reduce the possibility of a child choking:

  • Sit with children while they are eating
  • Insist that children remain seated while eating
  • Set a calm eating atmosphere
  • Prepare certain foods with care:
    1. Chop nuts and seeds finely
    2. Slice grapes lengthwise
    3. Shred hard raw vegetables
    4. Remove inner skin from oranges
    5. Remove pits from all fruits
    6. Spread peanut butter thinly
    7. Never give popcorn or hard candies to children under four

Taken from "Healthy Heart Snack Choices," a facts sheet from the Cornell Cooperative Extension; Cornell University, Plainview, New York