Teaching Responsibility to Kids: Get Them in the Kitchen!

We’re all familiar with the stereotypical 30-year-old adult living in the basement, right? Contributing little inside or outside of the home and still relying on parents to cook, clean, and do the laundry? I think most of us would agree that is not what we want for our kids.

Our goal as parents is to raise successful adults. But there is no easy ‘adult’ button. No predetermined age when cleaning up after ourselves, cooking our own meals, pitching in on household chores, and serving our community automatically become a part of our daily habits.

No, these things have to be taught, and teaching responsibility to kids is one of our most important jobs as parents.

Responsibility can be developed in many different ways, but my favorite way is to focus on teaching kids important life skills — specifically learning to cook — and then having them practice those skills on a regular basis. After all, studies show that learning to cook as a kid has a major impact on health as an adult!

Helping our kids grow into responsible AND healthy adults?  That’s what I call a win/win!

Teaching Responsibility to Kids – From Knowing to Doing

Getting kids in the kitchen as early as possible is my refrain! 🙂 Many of us feel intuitively that children should have chores around the house — but moving from the knowing to the doing (or the letting go of perfection) is often the greater challenge.

I know this as well as anyone!  After I became a mom of 4 I hit the point where I was too busy and too stressed out to even think about inviting my kids to help me in the kitchen. But…I needed help so I could stop being so busy and spend time enjoying my children.

Even though I love cooking, sometimes having my kids in the kitchen cooking with me was as painful as doing crafts and finding glitter on everything two months later. shudder

I often tell the story about my oldest son preparing food for his classroom at school. I had to be the one to bring in the chef’s knife for his demonstration – school policy. I listened to all the adults in the room gasp as he thwacked the pit out of the avocado with that knife.

Paul 'thwacks' the pit out of an avocado during his guacamole demonstration.

I was proud of his ability to make guacamole, but it was at that moment I realized the ONLY thing he knew how to make was guacamole. I missed teaching my kids what I had taught so many other families to do, and it was then the seed of the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse took root in my heart.

It has born such great fruit, but for now here are some points and direction for you as you begin sorting through how to get from knowing we should be teaching responsibility to our kids to actually teaching them. 

How Do I Teach Responsibility to my Kids?

For starters, don’t do everything yourself.

Eating is a family and community activity, and cooking should be as well. Children need a place and a role in the family, and the kitchen is one of the best places to find that place, as it’s tied so intrinsically to our health and well-being.

As nurturers, we often carry so much of the burden, but it’s time to enlist your helpers, even if it means letting go of some of your perfectionism.

You don’t have to do it all at once! Relinquishing control is so hard and the temptation to “let me just do it quickly for you” is so strong, but just take the first step. Commit to getting over yourself and your fears and allow the kids to help with cooking.

If it stresses you out, don’t let them help right before dinner when you’re pressed for time. That will end up with everyone feeling negative and not wanting to do it again! Set aside a half-hour after school, on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, when everyone is well-fed and happy.

Start small, with gentleness and patience. Teach one new skill, and THEN the kids can practice that skill before dinner and be genuinely helpful to your meal prep. Being genuinely thankful and expressing your appreciation for their help will increase their confidence and their self-esteem so incredibly you will be amazed at the effect!

The challenge is worth the reward. Our most important work is to raise healthy, independent adults, and we’re NOT doing that when we shoo them out of the kitchen and disconnect them from their food.

Girl in superhero costume - "We are supposed to raise our offspring to be able to find without us" Julie Lythcott Haims

We don’t want our kids leaving for college not knowing how to cut a vegetable and ending up relying on frozen dinners the whole time, any more than we want them to leave unable to do their own laundry, change tires, or sew on a button!

Age-appropriate tasks and chores give our kids the building blocks of future success and will enable them to function in the adult world that’s coming all too quickly.

Kitchen Chores for Kids – the Breakdown

So now you may be saying “okay, Katie, you’ve convinced me, but now what?! What kitchen chores and responsibilities are my kids capable of?”

More than you might think!

In my own household, my older two kids, ages 14 and 11, are responsible to cook an entire meal once a week. They have to learn to plan ahead (a work in progress!), use teamwork, schedule their time wisely, follow directions, and use their safe techniques.

We’ve eaten wonderful meals, from a sausage breakfast burrito they made up themselves (with homemade tortillas) to our regular homemade grain-free pizza.

But they didn’t start out being able to do those things – they developed skills and confidence gradually over the years from their time in the kitchen

Assigning chores for kids can be a bit tricky. We want them to take responsibility for more, but we need to take into account what they have learned to do – the life skills we have passed on to them. Here are a few ideas for what we could be teaching and what they can be doing at each age level.  

Jobs for Toddlers

  • Sort utensils into drawers
  • Wipe up spills
  • Put muffin liners in tins
  • Learn about oven safety

Jobs for Ages 3 to 5 Years Old

  • Crack and peel hard-boiled eggs
  • Cut soft things – like banana, pineapple, cooked potatoes – with a dull knife
  • Unload the dishwasher
  • Wipe the counter and sweep the floor

Jobs for Ages 5 to 8 Years Old

  • Begin learning sharp knife skills
  • Crack eggs independently
  • Work at the stove safely
  • Serve their own breakfast and being to pack their own lunches

Jobs for Ages 8 & Beyond

  • Cut all fruits and veggies with a sharp knife
  • Bake safely in the oven
  • Cook a meal mostly on their own
  • Choose a recipe and help plan a meal or even help create a weekly meal plan

Katie Kimball, creator of Kids Cook Real Food eCourse - teaching two young boys to cook kids to cook

Set Up For Success – in the Kitchen and Beyond!

The best part about teaching kids responsibility in the kitchen is the fruit I’ve seen it bear in the world! I’ve seen my daughter’s confidence soar, like when she applied to be class treasurer last year. I think it’s because she knows not everyone her age can do these authentic skills.  She also helps with social media statistics once a week. My 14-year-old son is our video editor and has recently co-authored a cookbook

The bottom line is this – We believe kids are capable of more than most parents expect! 

Grab our Life Skills Goals {in the Kitchen} to see what your kids could be capable of at every age!


Kids Life Skills Goals in the Kitchen Printable Guidelines

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