Young Kids Learning in the Kitchen

Mild Salsa — with tortilla chips (Photo from
Mild Salsa — with tortilla chips (Photo from

By Hayley Jackson, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

Cooking in the kitchen is a great way to spend time with young children in your life. Although it may seem daunting, including young children in grocery shopping and preparing food is an excellent opportunity for children to learn. Below are some ways to incorporate learning into grocery shopping and cooking with young children.

• Creating the Grocery List. Having young children help to create the grocery list is one way to include them in the cooking experience. Once you have decided on something to cook together, have children help you brainstorm the items needed for that dish. Give children a pencil and paper and let them help write down what items you will be looking for at the grocery store together. Even if they are not able to write the words, encourage them to draw a picture of the item so you both know what to look for at the store.

• Grocery Shopping Together. Once at the grocery store, encourage the child to help you locate the items you need. You can turn this into a literacy experience by encouraging children to identify the letters they are seeing throughout the store. You can also point out the letters each item starts with for more literacy fun.

• Cooking Together. During the cooking process, have the child help you in kid-appropriate ways. For example, children can help measure and pour ingredients together. Preschool-aged children can also help chop softer materials with a butter knife, such as tomatoes or mushrooms. Allow children to measure the correct number of scoops to follow the recipe and they can practice counting while cooking with you.

• Taste-testing the Final Product. This is the fun part! Once you have completed your cooking experience, taste test the food together. Encourage your child to describe the colors they notice and what they are tasting. Is it sour, sweet or another flavor? Does it feel hot to the child’s tongue, or is it cold? All of this language is a great way to practice and build your child’s vocabulary.

This salsa recipe is a fun way to explore cooking with young children and the results are tasty and nutritious!

(Yields: 2–4 Servings)

• 1 large tomato (or 2 small)
• 2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
• 1 teaspoon minced chili pepper (optional)
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
• 1/4 of a lime
• Salt to taste
• Tortilla chips

1. Chop the tomatoes, green peppers and cilantro into bite-sized chunks. Children can help chop these items with a butter knife and adult supervision. This is a great way to support their fine motor development.

2. Measure out the rest of the ingredients and add them to a large bowl along with the chopped tomatoes, green peppers and cilantro. Encourage children to help measure and pour ingredients into the bowl.

3. Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of