Cooking with kids: a survival guide

Sabrina Parrini
07 January, 2014

Let's face it, having kids in the kitchen can be a little hair-raising! Children's cookbook author Sabrina Parrini shares her tips on how to make cooking with kids a fun – and safe – experience for everyone.

To be honest, it takes time and patience to let young children into your kitchen. It is often quicker and easier to do things yourself. But if you take the time to encourage children to cook from an early age there are plenty of rewards for parents and carers in the long run. Not only do children learn important life skills in the kitchen, but as they get older, they will be able (and willing) to take over a lot of the meal preparation at home! 

For children to gain confidence and the necessary skills, you will probably need to set some ground rules. Mostly, these are common sense, and are to do with safety. And remember that children learn a lot of their own habits from observing grown-ups, so try to adopt good kitchen behaviour yourself. Wash your own hands before touching food, tie long hair back, wear an apron and pull up long sleeves. And try not to do things in the kitchen that you wouldn’t want your children to do – such as dipping questionably clean fingers into a dish to taste it! Encourage your children to read this information with you – even though they will probably want to jump straight into the fun cooking part! 

1. Give yourself time

Plan to cook when you have plenty of time, so you don’t feel rushed and everyone can enjoy the experience. It’s a good idea to cook on weekends or during the school holidays, instead of on a school day when you may be pressed for time, tired or stressed. In my experience, it’s when you try to rush things that things go wrong and safety can be compromised. 

2. Be prepared

Read the recipe through with your children, from beginning to end, before you start, so that you know what you are doing. Then assemble all the ingredients and equipment that you need. 

3. Allow the kids some independence

Decide which parts of the recipe your children can manage safely, then work through things together. While my recipes clearly indicate where full adult supervision is essential from a safety perspective, they are also designed to give children as broad an experience of cooking as possible. So I encourage you to allow them to do as much as possible, unaided. Children thrive on independence, so even if they are slow or messy, or not doing a task as ‘well’ as you could, give them the space and freedom to learn. Research has found that cooking with children from a young age can positively affect their mental and emotional wellbeing. 

4. Stick to the recipe

While some of the fun of cooking is knowing when and how to improvise, I strongly recommend that you and your little chefs start by following a recipe to the letter. Young children, in particular, need clarity and direction in the kitchen to achieve success. As a child gets older and becomes more adept, you can introduce the concepts of ingredient substitution and food matching. 

I hope that together you will create lots of happy shared memories in the kitchen – and that your whole family will enjoy the delicious results! 

cooking with kids scones

Safety tips for little chefs 

Although cooking is great fun, it is important to remember that some things in the kitchen can be dangerous if you are not careful. For this reason it is very important to have an adult stay in the kitchen with you the whole time you are cooking. 

Knives and sharp equipment

Knives, peelers, graters and food processors are sharp, so when they are called for in a recipe, I recommend that a grown-up should always be close by to help. Very small children may not be experienced or big enough to use knives safely, in which case an adult should do what is required themselves. 

Sharp knives are safer than blunt knives because you don’t need to use as much pressure to cut with them. When you use less pressure, you are less likely to slip and cut yourself. 

Don’t put a knife – or anything sharp – into a sink of water for washing where it can’t be seen. If someone doesn’t know it is there, they might cut themselves. 

Ovens and stovetop

Ovens and stovetops get very hot so I recommend that a grown-up should always be present when they are in use. Ask a grown-up to help you turn the heat on and off and to adjust the temperature to the correct level. 

When using the oven, remember to arrange the shelves in the right place BEFORE you turn it on. In general the middle shelf is the best spot for cooking because it allows the hot air to move all around your dish and cook the food evenly. 

Stand back when the oven door is being opened as the hot steam can burn. Both grown-ups and children should use oven mitts when moving things in and out of the oven. Ideally they should be long enough to cover your forearms – and please make sure they are the right size for your hands: small mitts for small hands. 

When cooking on the stovetop, always ask a grown-up to turn the heat on and to adjust it to the correct temperature. Either you or an adult MUST hold the handle steady when stirring something in a pan on the stovetop. Always wear oven mitts when working near a stovetop or with hot ingredients. 

Turn the handles of pots and pans so they face to the back or side of the stove. Handles poking out could cause an accident if someone accidentally knocks them. Never leave them unattended and always remember to turn the heat off when you are finished. 

Always use a timer, so you don’t overcook or burn anything; it’s easy to forget how long something has been cooking! Never leave the kitchen when you have something on the stovetop as it may burn or catch on fire. 


Always clean up spills straight away. Spills on the floor make it slippery and you might slip and fall over. Wipe up with paper towels and once you’ve cleaned up, tell everyone else to be careful of the wet floor. 


If you don’t already know, check with your parents or a grown-up to find out if you are allergic to any foods. If you are, ALWAYS tell the adult you are cooking with before you start. They might not know or they might have forgotten. Make sure you both check the recipe carefully to make sure it doesn’t use any ingredients you can’t have. If you are unsure about something, it’s safer to choose another recipe instead. 

Food safety

It's important to follow some simple hygiene rules when cooking so that no one gets sick! If you are cooking with both raw meats and vegetables, make sure you use two separate chopping boards and never use the same knife to chop vegetables after you've cut up meat. This is because raw meats sometimes have bacteria in them (that are killed by the cooking process) which you don't want to end up on your veggies!

This is an edited extract from Sabrina Parrini's Little Kitchen. Cook Sabrina's recipes


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