The following are suggested tasks for each age group. Of course, maturity and dexterity differ in each child. It’s up to you to determine what’s appropriate for your child.
2-3 year olds and up
Most toddlers enjoy helping in the kitchen. They are very tactile and love the concept of eating their art project. This age group, however, needs very close adult supervision since their dexterity and motor skills are still developing.
This age group can do the following tasks with minimal assistance: Squeezing lemons or limes, using a plastic juicer, washing produce in the sink, drying produce in a salad spinner; picking fresh herb leaves off stems, ripping them into small pieces; tearing up lettuce, sprinkling dried herbs and salt, using a pepper grinder, kneading dough, scooping potatoes or yams out of the skins, brushing (or “painting”) oil with a pastry brush, using the rolling pin for dough or puff pastry, whisking together vinaigrettes, squeezing water out of thawed spinach, stirring, and mashing.
They will need close supervision to: Grate, peel, chop vegetables and herbs with a knife, and break eggs.
4-5 year olds and up
In this age group, there is a lot of variability in motor skills, independence, and the ability to focus, which means that some kids will continue doing the 2-3 year-old tasks, and others will feel ready to move on to the 6-7 year-old tasks.
6-7 year olds and up
This age group usually has developed fine motor skills so they can take on more detailed work, like using measuring spoons and forming evenly sized patties. They may still need reminders to watch their fingers during grating and peeling.
They also excel at: Dicing and mincing vegetables, grating cheese; peeling raw potatoes, ginger, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables; slicing and scooping out avocados, greasing pans, using a microplane zester, de-seeding tomatoes and roasted peppers, draining and slicing tofu, rinsing grains and beans, forming cookies and patties, pouring liquids into small containers, and garnishing (or “decorating”) dishes.
8-9 year olds and up
There is a wide range of skills in this age group. Some 8 year olds are not mature enough to work at the stove. Others have the focus and diligence of an adult. You’ll have to decide if they should continue with the 6-7 year old tasks or if they are responsible enough to do more.
This group can take on more sophisticated tasks such as: Using a pizza cutter and can opener, scooping batter into muffin cups, scraping down the (unplugged) electric mixer bowl and food processor bowl, putting away leftovers, pounding chicken, proofing yeast, skewering food, slicing bread, and chopping hot chili peppers (latex gloves are a good idea!).
10-12 year olds and up
This age group can usually work independently in the kitchen. Before letting them do grown-up tasks on their own, they should have close adult supervision to assess whether they can follow basic rules such as tucking pan handles, unplugging electrical appliances, and safely using a chef’s knife. Once they pass a few of these “tests,” they can move onto basic tasks at the stove (stirring, making eggs) and oven, or using a chef’s knife, without close adult supervision.
However, it is recommended that there still be an adult in the house in case of emergency.
Excerpt from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids © 2010 by Julie Negrin