Get the Family Involved at Mealtime

“What’s for dinner?” How many times do you hear this question? Getting kids involved with mealtime will help answer this question.  It also helps set them up to make meal times a priority as they grow into adults. A study conducted by the University of Michigan looked at how 3-13-year-old kids spent their time. The greatest predictor of high achievement scores and less behavioral problems was meal time at home. Other studies have shown that as regular family meals increased, rates of childhood obesity, depression, and substance abuse decreased. The meals were also more nutritious. Kids can help in all aspects of meal planning: from what meals they like, picking produce in season, grocery shopping and meal preparation. Here are some tasks that children can participate in depending on their age.  Make the whole family involved in what is for dinner and dessert!

Preschoolers (Ages 2 to 5):

  • Wash fruits and vegetables in the sink
  • Dry lettuce in a salad spinner
  • Tear lettuce for salads
  • Smash graham crackers for crusts
  • Brush oil with a pastry brush
  • Use a rolling pin
  • Stir
  • Mash ingredients (ripe bananas, potatoes, cooked vegetables, avocado)
  • Pick fresh herb leaves off stems
  • Use a pepper grinder
  • Use cookie cutters
  • Spread peanut butter and jelly on bread

  Young Cooks (Ages 6 to 8)

  • Use measuring cups and spoons
  • Crack and whisk eggs
  • Grease pans
  • Cut soft items with scissors
  • Grate cheese
  • Knead dough
  • Peel fruits and vegetables
  • Read recipes aloud or sound out words
  • Scoop batter into muffin cups
  • Set the table

Preteens (Ages 9 to 12)

  • Put foods in the oven and remove them
  • Cook soup
  • Cut fruits and vegetables
  • Toast bread
  • Use a waffle maker
  • Cook pancakes on a griddle
  • Cook eggs on the stovetop
  • Roast vegetables
  • Use a timer and thermometer
  • Double recipes
  • Bake quick breads and muffins
  • Make sandwiches
  • Wash and put away dishes
  • Unload groceries

Teenagers (Ages 13 and Up)

  • Use all kitchen appliances
  • Develop knife skills
  • Marinate foods
  • Bake more complicated recipes
  • Cook chicken and other meats on a grill or in a pan
  • Make a full dinner
  • Run and empty the dishwasher
  • Clean the kitchen

Let your child be the chef for the day and plan and prepare a meal that is age appropriate.  Check out a family cooking magazine that is online at  They have many great cooking ideas.  Here is a dessert recipe from this website.

Pineapple Frozen Yogurt
This is an easy dessert for young cooks to help prepare.  For the easiest blending, freeze the fruit beforehand for at least 2 hours.
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Makes: 4 Servings

Kitchen Gear: 
Dinner knife
Cutting board
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Zester or grater
Food processor or blender (adult needed)

1 1⁄2 overripe banana, sliced and frozen
2 cups fresh or unsweetened canned pineapple chunks, frozen
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp grated lime zest

Put everything in the food processor and process until smooth. Serve right away.

Written by: Tina Bowen, Registered Dietitian, O'Fallon Family YMCA

Satter, Ellyn. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good     Eaters, How to Cook. Kelcy Press, 2008.
“Cooking With Kids: A Guide to Kitchen tasks for Every Age.” Taste of Home
“Cooking with Kids of All Ages.”  Williams Sonoma,
“Kitchen Tasks for Different Age Groups.”  The Kids Cook Monday!
“Pineapple Frozen Yogurt.” ChopChop, 19 Apr. 2016,

Children, Fun

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