Wouldn’t it be great to sit down to dinner and have your toddler chow down on his meal because he’s so proud and excited that he helped make it?
Cooking is an important life skill that kids can start learning at a very young age. It teaches them about nutrition, food safety, and appreciation for the food they eat (some appreciation for the effort that goes into a meal would be nice too, right?) Cooking also builds math, science, literacy and fine motor skills. AND as we’ve mentioned before, when kids help cook, they are more open to a wider variety of foods.
That’s why we’re starting a new series about cooking with young kids. By young we mean ages 3-6. Seriously, that young! And just like your dinner tonight, we’re going to start with…
the salad course!
Your kiddo is going to make a salad all by themselves (with some supervision of course). Don’t believe us? Lettuce show you!
By the way, it would be extra special if the vegetables in that salad are ones they grew themselves. Check out our post here for easy vegetables that kids will love to grow…and eat!
Meal #1: Salad
Making a fresh salad is a really great way to introduce kids to cooking. Salads are vibrant, full of different colors and textures kids will love. They’ll get to use a variety of skills, and you won’t have to worry about them near the stove or oven.
Oh, kale yeah! It’s prep time!
First, have your kids wash their hands. While they do that, gather all the vegetables over by the sink so they can be washed too. Just let them have fun making bubbles and getting those veggies clean! To minimize the mess, lay a towel down on the counter to place the veggies as they finish washing. Another towel can be used for drying.
Of course, lettuce (or spinach, kale, or some combination of the three) is the foundation for any salad, so we’ll start there. What could be more fun for a toddler than taking that soggy lettuce they just washed and giving it a run through the salad spinner? Have them see how fast they can make it spin, then let go and watch it spin on its own. Best game ever! Once the lettuce is dry, they can rip large leaves into smaller pieces with their hands and toss them in the bowl.
Fresh herbs? Good thymes.
If you grow herbs or sprouts in your kitchen or garden, then pulling fresh leaves off the stems is a great job for little ones! It’s even better if they helped to water and care for the plants and are now reaping the rewards of their hard work!
Add more texture and flavors.
Every salad is different, so depending on your family’s preferences, choose items like cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, peppers, maybe some red onion…and your little one can help chop them!
Knife skills really can be introduced to young children.
A great option is to pick up a set of nylon knives that are safer for kids. For example, this set on Amazon (this is an affiliate link, FYI) is really great and less that $10! Some sets also come with kid safe peelers, so they can start learning to peel cucumbers or carrots. (Imagine how great they will be by Thanksgiving; mashed potatoes and yams just got a whole lot easier!) You will want to supervise, but they should be able to handle the knife independently.
Tip: If your little one is having a hard time with the round vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes and onions, give them a quick slice down the middle. Turn each half so they are flat side down on the cutting board. This way the veggies won’t try to roll away from the kid wielding the knife.
Garnishes and younger siblings.
Garnishing a salad is fun, and this is where the youngest ones can really contribute! They can toss vegetables that you (or their sibling) precut, mix in croutons, or sprinkle shredded cheese.
Also – dressing! Standard salad dressing can be a bit much for little kids; we find that a little olive oil, lemon, and garlic salt works well to bring it all together.
Feel like you’re going to be left with a big mess?
Nope! It’s good for kids to learn to clean up after themselves anyway, right? They can definitely put their knife and cutting board in the sink or dishwasher, wipe down the counter if it’s wet, and bring wet towels to the laundry area.
Kids can set the table for you too, including putting out dressings and other condiments. If you still need to keep them busy while the rest of dinner is cooking, coloring placemats and name tags are fun, low-mess activities.
Plus, even 3 and 4-year-olds can carry their plates back to the kitchen after their meal and assist in loading the dishwasher. They get a kick out of pushing the buttons to turn it on, too!
Don’t forget the two P-eas.
Patience and Praise. Those first few salads will probably make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for “longest time taken to make a salad.” Plan on the whole dinner taking longer, because you’ll be supporting and supervising rather than cooking the rest of the meal. AND…we’re also pretty confident that you won’t be able to find two slices of cucumber that are the same thickness.
That’s ok! Remember, we care not how pretty the salad is, only how much goes into your kid’s mouth…followed by proud, happy smiles.
Besides, that salad can just hang out in the fridge until the rest of the meal is ready. It won’t mind.
They did it! Now, when you’re having dinner tonight, make sure you take plenty for your first helping. Why? Because your little one is going to eat so much, if you go for a second helping, there’ll be none romaine-ing!
Ok, ok we’re done. We did have a couple more salad jokes planned…but we tossed ‘em. ;)