For a bunch of good reasons, most of us want our kids to help out in the kitchen: It teaches them important life skills early on (what ever happened to home ec, by the way?)—and we could use the help. Besides, we want them to know that food doesn’t just appear cooked on a plate—someone has to get it there. Plus, kids are more likely to eat things they’ve had a hand in making. But how—and when—to get started?

The first part of the answer is the earlier, the better. At the beginning, perhaps what they’re doing isn’t really all that helpful—and that’s okay. I have a memory of my son Jack when he was a toddler, sitting on the counter (blocked by me, no worries), throwing raisins into a batter with his pudgy little fist. Making your child feel comfortable in the kitchen is one of the most important things you can do to interest them in cooking. Let them be part of the scene, transferring pasta shells from one cup to another, even playing with the spoons and pots and pans on the floor.

So when can they really get helpful? The ultimate answer is “it depends on your kid,” which is slightly annoying but true. Following are some very rough guidelines for when to introduce certain kitchen skills to your kid. Keep in mind that some 6-year-olds are ready to man the electric mixer, while a 13-year-old who has never entered the kitchen except to pour a bowl of cereal might not be. Only you know your kid’s ability and level of responsibility. And until you’re assured that your child is adept at any assignment, supervise, supervise, supervise. So, with that disclaimer fully in place, let’s dive in:


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