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Dad, Can I Help You...Cook?

by David Grotto, RD, LDN

David Grotto, RD, LDN

David W. Grotto, RD, LDN is a member of the Produce for Kids advisory board. He is also the president and founder of Nutrition Housecall, a nutrition consulting firm. Read more »

Sorry, David Grotto, RD, LDN is no longer taking questions.

At first, they may be words that make you cringe. Cooking is your domain and a kid's job is to just eat. But teaching basic cooking techniques is an important life skill for kids to learn.

You may have already heard about the benefits of children having a hand in the growing, purchasing, or the preparation of their own food. Kids who are actively involved in the process, from field to plate, stand a greater chance of making healthier food choices now and in the future.

And the task of teaching kids to cook doesn't have to default to mom, the school cooking class teacher, or your favorite food show host. As a dad and a registered dietitian, I have found this to be great way to spend time with my kids while getting them to be passionate about preparing delicious yet healthy meals we all love.

Let me share some tips on how dads out there can cook up a storm with their kids in a fun and healthy way.

Research recipes or find cookbooks geared for children.

Once you familiarize your children with the basics of cooking and how to cook safely, the next question is "What shall we make?" As much as you think your kids might want to learn how to make your famous baked anchovy-encrusted liver casserole, you may be surprised to learn that they want to start off with something more "simple". Go to your favorite bookstore or search on line for kids cookbooks or download some interesting kid-friendly recipes. But if you are stuck for ideas and want to start off simple, here are some great ideas my kids love.


You can either start off by buying ready-made crusts or you can make it yourself with simple ingredients. Also, look for ready-made whole grain crusts or adapt an existing recipe for pizza crust by swapping out half of the flour for whole wheat flour. You can also use flour or corn tortillas as an excellent base to hold their favorite toppings. The key is "anything goes"!

Grillin' & Thrillin'

It's especially hard for dads to hand over the reins to the kids when it comes to grilling. And part of that anxiety is an understandable concern about safety. I had my daughters start helping me cook on the grill when they were around 10. I always make sure to lay down a few simple rules to help make grilling fun and safe.

  • Never leave your kids to grill alone.
  • Teach kids what parts of the grill are hot and make sure they use grilling gloves and long-handled utensils when handling food. As an added precaution, keep a hose nearby that is ready for action.
  • Show them how to use a food thermometer to tell if meats are fully cooked.

Now that they are ready, here are some great kid-friendly foods for grilling out or indoors.

  • Assemble fruit and vegetable kebabs and brush on a light coating of bar-b-que sauce. Serve with additional sauce for dipping.
  • Cut watermelon into triangles and brush on a light coating of vegetable oil combined with equal parts of balsamic vinegar. Place watermelon pieces directly on the grill or grill plate. This is quite a tasty treat on top of a green salad.
  • Make a S'more with more! Toast marshmallows over the grill or stove until lightly browned. Top one graham cracker with your favorite chocolate and top with sliced bananas. Then add the toasted marshmallow for a yummy treat!

Smoothie Bar: Break out the blender and get ready to whip up a meal.

Let's face it; sometimes you or the kids simply don't have the time to cook, but you still want them to have something delicious and healthy. Smoothies are the perfect choice that your kids will love to create and can share the "fruits" of their labor with you!

  • The basics: Start them off with a base of milk or fortified soy milk to provide calcium, protein and vitamin D.
  • Fruit-a-licious: Add an assortment of fruits like strawberries or kiwi for vitamin C, bananas or orange juice for potassium or for a Latin flare, add avocado for heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • Top it off: Add a scoop of the kids' favorite low fat ice cream and give it a whirl. Don't forget to remind the kids to put the lid back on before they blend!

Lastly, just have fun. The finished product may not look "perfect" in your eyes, but congratulate the kids anyway on a job well done and enjoy every bite. They'll really be thrilled for just the chance to help you. And you know how the old saying goes, "Practice makes perfect," or hopefully, better than the time before.

So, what kinds of foods do you cook with your kids?

Sorry, David Grotto, RD, LDN is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Pat writes...

Great ideas here. But when I have my kids in the kitchen, it's never easy. They fight over cooking tasks and make a mess that I end up cleaning, so it just seems simpler to make dinner myself. Especially when dinner has to fit into our already busy schedule. Do you have any suggestions for getting kids involved in everyday cooking in an easy, fast way?

Dave? writes...

Hi Pat!

Sorry for the delayed response - I was busy cooking outside with the kids. Well, not really...Ha!

Boy, do I know what you are talking about! My three daughters fight over who can help me first so, to avoid grief in the kitchen, I have established rules of the kitchen.

1. Each kid gets a specific assignment which I make clear is as important as everyone else's assignment.
2. Each kid gets a specific cleaning assignment whoch I make clear is an important trait of any good cook\chef.
3. I request that kids lend a hand with with menu development. In fact, my middle daughter, Katie loves the Nintendo DS program called Personal Trainer Cooking. She just made a Warm Goat Cheese salad with Honey Mustard dressing and it was delicious. Another option is have the kids visit recipe websites and download ones they would like to try.

Good luck and happy cooking!


H writes...

Pat, you should create a chart that works with your families schedule that allows each child a meal, or day, however you want to do it. That gives them the power to choose what they want to make, cuts down on the messes and fights and allows you to have some good one on one time. I don't think it has to be an everyday thing, but maybe once a week for each child. Good luck!

nicole writes...

I like having my kids "help" me in the kitchen, but they often end up fighting over who gets to help do what.

Just this morning, they were leaning over the stove, fighting over who was going to stir the eggs! I made sure that they take turns, but I so wish there was a way to eliminate petty squabbles. Thoughts?

Dave? writes...

Hi Nicole:

I must admit, though we do pass out the assignments in the kitchen, if one of my daughters really is bent on helping in one area, I simply let them duke it out with her siblings. I'm joking, of course (though sometimes think it might be the easiest route - ha!).

Like I mentioned to Pat, we really do try to make sure everyone gets a crack at different areas of cooking on the kitchen so no one is stuck doing something they think isn't fun all of the time. I really think not putting yourself in a situation where you are making cooking assignments on the fly works out best for your sanity as well as the kid's physical well-being, Plan ahead. Let the kids do the meal planning, help you with the shopping for ingredients, all the way to the washing and putting away of the dishes.

Let me know it all works out. In the meantime, I'm laying my odds on the kid with the biggest spatula! Ouch!


Juli writes...

With my kids, it helps a lot that they all work as a team in cooking. One may peel carrots, another one may actually do the cooking on the stove (usually my oldest, as she is tall enough to look over the stove safely) and another one may help with another task. Maybe before the kids start, they can discuss what tasks they will each take so as to eliminate squabbles.
My kids have made pizza...usually when they do make something, I'm usually out of the picture (at least nowadays). They googled the pizza crust recipe, and made the pizza themselves. I also taught my oldest daughter (12) to clean chicken, and then I already had some frozen blended spice paste to cook the chicken with, and she just marinated the chicken pieces with that and baked it.
My oldest ddaughter also cooks stir fried veg. In the very beginning I would bring her to kitchen with me, cook with her, or let her do some of the tasks but tell her to observe and I share the scientific explanations too as I show her. With my 9 yr old son, he's just enthusiastic about cooking. I taught him how to fry rice (chinese style) and when I showed him the first time, I also let him do some of the tasks and also explain to him the basics of frying rice. They then alter the way they make stuff once they know the basics (that you have to saute onions, garlic, add the flavorings etc).
For me, it's a matter of my own survival teaching my kids to cook, because we homeschool and I take classes online every week twice a week, so I need all the help I can get. When they were younger, I did everything myself, but as they grew older (4,5,6) I started to let them fiddle around in the kitchen. Yes it was messy, but it gave them high self esteem and important life skills. They love to bake now. Recently entered their baked goods in the state fair and won ribbons for all of them. I also teach them that cleaning up is also part of cooking, so now they clean up after they use the kitchen (well, most of the time anyway). Let them make a mess. They are learning. Let them make mistakes. They are learning. It's a long term benefit that we are striving for. We bought a waffle maker and I have never even used it because my daughter and son are the only ones who've used and actually know how to use it :P THey would make waffles (reading recipes is a good exercise, especially since we homeschool) on the weekends for all of us. My oldest daugher also makes eggplants cooked in chilli (we're Asian, so a lot of our dishes are Asian). My son likes to take charge of cooking spaghetti whenever we have spaghetti-based meals. They can boil eggs, peel them, even sliced them into quarters etc.

J writes...

I agree with H - give each child their own time in the kitchen. Mine are so much better when they don't feel like they have to compete with the other. It also gives the younger/quieter ones a chance to shine and learn. It's also good one-on-one time that isn't the same with more than one child.

travel writes...

I like having my son "help" me in the kitchen, It is feel better make the other.
If children cook food in the kitchen ,they will learn everything .This is fundamental for society to follow in the future.

john writes...

I do most of the cooking for my wife and children. The kids are quite young, at two and four years of age. Only recently have they started to participate in the cooking. They love to measure spices and stir things. I'm looking forward to having their contributions increase as they grow. I blog about my time in the kitchen at

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