If you’ve ever tuned into an episode of MasterChef Junior, you’ve probably second-guessed your reality, watching in awe as kids execute stunning fruit tartlettes in a 45-minute time frame or concoct a blood-orange gastrique to impress the judges. (Can we get some private lessons?)
In real life, though, what kitchen skills can you feasibly teach the pint-sized chefs who are eager to cook and bake alongside you?
We’ve collected some tips from pros to find out when is a good time to hand over the garlic press to your culinary apprentice and how long you should wait before entrusting them with chopping up veggies for that homemade salsa the whole fam loves.
Cooking with toddlers
So you’ve got a little one under the age of three who is curious about what’s happening in the kitchen? Engage those tiny hands. But first things first, make sure they’re not near any boiling water or sharp knives. Have your little ones help by washing fruits and veggies, stirring ingredients that are room temperature (like pancake batter) and, if you’re baking, sprinkling the sprinkles on cupcakes or decorating cookies with icing, suggests BBC Good Food.
Cooking with kids ages 3 to 5
One of the best parts of introducing your kids to cooking at an early age? You’re sneaking in some math by showing them how to measure out ingredients, as well as teaching them how to prepare healthy meals. If you’ve got kids in this age range, it’s a good time to let them help you measure out ingredients. (Remember, measuring out sugar is easier than flour!) And the folks at Williams-Sonoma suggest that kids in this age range are capable of cutting soft items, such as butter or strawberries, with a strong plastic knife or a dull butter knife. They can also mix, knead and roll dough, the store suggests.
Cooking with kids ages 6 to 8
Now, we’re cooking. Quite literally. This age range can start grasping cookbooks. Outside of the kitchen, it might be fun to grow some veggies and herbs with your child. By now, they can also start using small kitchen appliances, like can openers, garlic presses, cheese graters, hand mixers and, possibly, paring and small knives, suggests Williams-Sonoma. This is a good time to also teach them some basics, like boiling eggs and pasta and making sandwiches for their lunches.
Cooking with pre-teens ages 9 to 12
Simple dishes are fair game for this age range. Your children who fall into this range can do everything from prepare soup, roast veggies, place items in the oven, steam rice, use a food processor and blender, and fry hamburgers. They also are ready to trim and slice veggies, according to Williams-Sonoma. A challenge for your preteen? Task them with planning a meal for the family and show them how you meal plan for the week.
Cooking with teenagers ages 13 and up
Remember when your little ones were learning basic math concepts by helping to measure ingredients? We’re turning up the heat on those lessons, as your teens are now ready to understand the chemistry of baking and exercise their math skills by doubling or halving recipes. They can also learn important food safety tips. (Read: Teach them the dangers of handling raw chicken!) The experts at Williams-Sonoma say they’re also ready to safely develop knife skills, learning to chop, dice and mince, as well as pan fry and grill steaks, chicken breasts and other meats. You can also teach them about using and cleaning grills.
[h/t: Thirty Handmade Days]