Inside: Discover 43 smart cooking activities for preschoolers to combat picky eating and nurture lifelong healthy eating habits.

I admit it.  

I can lose my patience when I cook with my preschooler. Suddenly my sweet boy has seemingly sprouted 6 arms and transformed into a wild octopus whose goal is to turn our kitchen upside down. How is it possible to wreak so much havoc in such a tiny amount of time? 

Is it even worth it to do cooking activities for preschoolers?

Take last month, while we were gathering the ingredients for our muffins, my preschooler threw a carrot into the recycling bin. While my head was buried deep in the bin trying to fish it out, my son flung the backdoor open letting out our (indoor) cat. I ran out on the back deck, scrambling to chase the cat. And my son slammed the door behind me and (unsuccessfully, thankfully) tried locking the door. Then, he ran over to the oven and started pressing the buttons to turn it on.

Talk about stress-inducing! And it all happened fast. Like, within 30 seconds. 

In those few moments, I had utter panic running through my head. I didn’t have my phone on me. No keys. My husband was at work and we were at home alone. Thankfully the door is hard to lock and I was able to get back inside quickly. 

It’s safe to say I was not in the mood to make muffins after that.

However, I’ve since learned that with a little bit of planning ahead and resetting my expectations, we can make cooking a fun (and manageable) activity. 

And what’s my kid learning from cooking? Skills (like fine motor development) that help him right now. But also skills (like healthy eating habits) that are going to help him for his entire life.

Wanna see how?

easy cooking activities for preschoolers

Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I might earn a small commission if you love something as much as I do. But I only recommend what I actually like myself.

The Problem With Not Cooking With Kids

So, here’s the problem.

Because it’s so stressful and overwhelming, we’ve stopped inviting our kids to cook with us (Lavelle et al., 2019).

It’s just easier to set up a screen for them so we can focus and get our meals made. (And not risk being locked out of the house while our toddler experiments with the oven.) But the result?

Childhood obesity has reached global epidemic rates (Han et al., 2010). According to the CDC:

19.7% of children and adolescents (2-19 years old) are obese in the United States 

When kids don’t get involved and aren’t exposed to cooking, it lessens their awareness of food. Making them less likely to eat healthy vegetables. 

And what’s more? In the long term, kids aren’t building their confidence in their cooking skills. This impacts them for the rest of their (teenage, then adult) lives. A lifetime of ordering takeout.

What’s Happening To Fine Motor Skills?

The issue goes even further than healthy eating.

You’ve heard the importance of fine motor skills. But did you know they play a big part in your preschooler’s academic success when they get to primary school? Poor fine motor dexterity can impact their reading and math skills (Son & Meisels, 2006; Grissmer, Grimm & Aiyer, 2010).

preschooler slicing bananas with a kid-safe knife with the text overlay: how does cooking help a child's physical development?

So, they’re super important. But our kids aren’t developing fine motor skills at the rate they should be (Gaul & Issartel, 2016).

Why is this happening?

Because we aren’t giving them enough hands-on activities, like cooking activities, to help them develop those fine motor skills.

So, what do we do?

An Easy Solution

Turns out, there’s an easy solution to tackling both issues: lack of healthy eating and poor fine motor development.  

Start cooking with preschoolers

When we teach toddlers and young kids how to cook, it’s helping them on several levels. Immediately, it’s building those critical fine motor skills. 

a mother helps her toddler with baking in the kitchen with the text overlay: why teaching basic cooking skills will help your child for the rest of their life

And the long game? You’re giving them confidence in themselves and their cooking abilities. And you know what? It sticks. As teenagers, they are more likely to cook instead of grabbing unhealthy snacks. And as adults, they are more likely to cook for themselves, instead of opting for takeout (Clark, Goyder, Bissell, Blank, & Peters, 2007).  

So now we know the importance of cooking with kids, but what’s the best way to do it without losing our cool?

How to plan a cooking activity for a child without feeling overwhelmed

I can’t promise you that cooking with your child is going to be completely stress-free. But, there are a few things you can do to make it a whole lot easier and less overwhelming.

Want to know how?

Shift your mindset. First things first, let’s set some realistic expectations. This will not be an efficient cooking session, where the goal is to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes. The goal is to have bonding time, exploration, and fun. Just remember, you’re helping your kid get these amazing, gooey benefits of cooking in early childhood. Oh, and there will probably be a mess.  And that’s ok.

Get a kitchen helper stool. We use our stool every. day. It gets your kid at counter height so they can participate in fun cooking activities. It’s super sturdy.  And we opted for this version that doesn’t fold flat. I was worried this would be a problem, but honestly, this is my son’s perch for 67% of the day and it’s a fixture in our kitchen. So we probably wouldn’t have folded it up much anyway.

A kitchen featuring a kitchen helper stool for toddlers and preschoolers to be able to access the counter to participate in cooking activities for preschoolers

The downside of using a kitchen helper, is that suddenly your tiny chef has access to everything on your counter.  So plan out its spot carefully. We keep ours out of reach from the stove and keep the counter cleared that’s within reach. 

Which leads us to my next tip…

Set up your space. Before you start your cooking lesson, clear everything within reach of your kid’s stool. They will get distracted at points and look around for things to do. The last thing you want is for them to be turning on a nearby blender. Ask me how I know.

Plan for your kid’s short attention span. Pick a relatively easy activity or recipe. Expect that you’ll be derailed at certain points (ahem, chasing cats). Pick a recipe that won’t fall apart. Don’t pick time-sensitive recipes. 

A preschool boy helps his dad cooking in the kitchen by putting flour on the counter. Text overlay: How to plan a cooking activity for a child.

Think of activities your kid can do in advance. After you pick your recipe, think of small individual tasks your child can help with. You can get ideas from the preschool cooking activities below. And I also like to have a backup activity (i.e. a coloring book) if my kid gets really distracted.

Start small.  Before diving into a full recipe together, invite them to help you with specific and short tasks. My 3-year-old adores peeling boiled eggs for us.  And since he’s learned to crack raw eggs, we’ll ask him if he wants to help out when we cook. He’ll happily crack eggs then go back to playing.

So, before you start cooking with preschoolers, make sure you’re in the right mindset, you’ve got the right tools, and you’ve planned out your recipe and tasks for your young kid’s short attention span.

Ready to get cooking?

Fun & Easy Cooking Activities for Preschoolers

The rest of this post is meant to inspire you and give you concrete ideas to get your preschoolers cooking with you. 

From no-bake cooking activities for preschoolers that help build basic cooking skills to kid-friendly basic recipes to create healthy snacks. Plus some ideas to work in educational activities like sensory experiments.

hot chocolate dramatic play printable PDF
Create a hot cocoa cafe for dramatic play (with recipe cards)

26 Age-Appropriate Basic Cooking Skills for Kids 2 to 5 Years Old

Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of kitchen activities your preschooler is capable of. This list is (mostly) derived from research that determined age-appropriate guidelines for cooking skills by age, given kids’ developmental motor skills (Dean et al, 2021). I also added a few ideas, based on cooking with my 3-year-old.

preschool boy using a hand mixer in the kitchen as an example of an age-appropriate cooking activity for preschoolers
My preschooler loves hand mixing—a fantastic activity to practice coordination.

Look for opportunities to invite your preschooler to help you out with these kitchen activities:

  1. Washing fruit and vegetables
  2. Kneading dough
  3. Mixing ingredients together with their hands
  4. Tearing herbs or lettuce
  5. Using a rolling pin to flatten dough
  6. Breaking fruits and vegetables into pieces
  7. Adding muffin tins to a muffin pan
  8. Using cookie cutters 
  9. Squirting with a squeeze bottle
  10. Stirring and mixing ingredients with a spoon
  11. Mashing a banana with a fork
  12. Scrambling a raw egg with a whisk
  13. Cutting, chopping and slicing soft foods (like a banana) with a butter knife or kid’s knife
  14. Spooning a mixture from one bowl to another
  15. Pouring ingredients (like flour or water) into a bowl
  16. Measuring ingredients (like baking powder) – with help
  17. Spreading peanut butter or cream cheese on bread
  18. Brushing oil with a pastry brush
  19. Pinching and sprinkling on salt with little fingers
  20. Shaking spices onto a dish
  21. Operating a manual hand mixer
  22. Sprinkling chocolate chips into cookies
  23. Placing their favorite toppings onto a pizza
  24. Grabbing cooled treats from a baking sheet
  25. Peeling boiled eggs
  26. Cracking eggs (raw)

So, these are all age-appropriate cooking skills for preschoolers. You can feel confident asking your late toddler or preschooler to help you out with these tasks. As always, children need adult supervision.  And sometimes, it takes a few tries to get it right. So, just expect a few broken eggs, literally.

(Psssst, if you’re looking for more hands-on learning activities (designed for kids who get bored easily) you’re gonna want to check out my free guide Flashcard Frenzy.)

autumn pie recipe cards

BONUS: Is your kid into cooking? Grab a set of my FREE Autumn Pie Pretend Play Sequencing cards so they can bake their own pies in their play kitchen. It combines imaginative play with cognitive sequencing.

11 Sensory Exploration Kitchen Activities

The kitchen can be a sensory playground and a perfect way for young children to explore all 5 senses.  At this age, preschoolers learn best through hands-on sensory exploration. And preschoolers love to get their hands on everything!

And what’s even better is that repeated, hands-on exposure through cooking can even help picky eaters to eat more fruits and vegetables (Ehrenberg et al, 2019). 

Toddler in the kitchen helping putting muffin liners in a muffin pan, doing cooking activities like sensory experiences.

Use these cooking ideas to explore a sensory experience and fuel their curiosity:

  1. Explore the colors of food. What color is the tomato sauce? What do you think makes it red? 
  2. What do mini marshmallows feel like between your fingers? Soft or hard? Are they softer or harder than a raisin?
  3. Compare what salt and sugar look like. Do they look the same or different? Now have a taste test. Are they the same or different tastes? How are they different?
  4. What happens when you put butter in the microwave? How does melted butter look different than cold butter?
  5. What does it sound like to stir ingredients with a metal spoon vs a wooden spoon?
  6. What does dry pasta feel like compared to cooked pasta?
  7. Can you feel the heat from the oven? What makes the heat? What should we do when we feel that something is hot?
  8. What do muffins smell like as they bake?
  9. What does cinnamon smell like? Now cumin. Do they smell the same or different?
  10. How does brown sugar feel different than white sugar?
  11. What happens when you combine green food coloring with blue food coloring?

Use these sensory experience examples to create your own questions to get your little chef curious about cooking. 

3 No-Bake Recipes for Preschoolers

After your child has helped with small tasks in the kitchen, you can move to these simple cooking activities for preschoolers. These easy no bake recipes with few ingredients don’t use heat or an oven to complete.

They are great ideas for kids to build confidence in the kitchen because they can complete most of the recipes by themselves (except the one with a blender). They are also a great way to involve cooking in lesson plans for pre-K classrooms.

1. Healthy Fresh Fruit Salad

A wonderful kid-friendly first recipe is a fruit salad.  (Anyone else’s kid obsessively sing The Wiggles Fruit Salad song?)

a preschooler is cooking with his dad cutting cantaloupe to make a fruit salad, an easy cooking activity for preschoolers
My preschooler cutting cantaloupe with my husband, using a kid-safe knife

Slice a banana. Cut up some grapes. Toss in whatever fruits you have on hand. Mix it up. Makes a great afternoon snack. Easy.

2. Refreshing Smoothies & Popsicles

I admit that I’m raising a bit of a popsicle addict. Literally, the first question my preschooler has asked me every morning for the past 1.5  years is: can I have a popsicle? 

a preschool boy is pouring ingredients into a blender to make a smoothie or popsicle, an easy no bake recipe with few ingredients that's perfect for kids to help with in the kitchen

I knew I needed an alternative to the sugary store-bought ones, so we started by making “breakfast pops” together. (We call them that because I won’t let him have store-bought pops for breakfast.  But our homemade healthy “breakfast pops” can be enjoyed any time of the day.)

It’s basically any (frozen or fresh) fruit + spinach we have on hand, blended up. For popsicles, you do need to add a little sweetener (I use honey or maple syrup) so that it pulls out of the mold easily. 

We use the 1.25” inch square ice cube mold, which is the perfect popsicle size. (I have regular popsicle molds but prefer this size. And I can make 15 at a time.)

And these reusable popsicle sticks. I recommend getting the (boring) clear ones – because the fun, colored ones have an extra sticky design on them that partially gets pulled off. Then there’s a sticky residue on the stick you have to scrub off (x30). Just get the clear ones.

3. Indulge in a Healthy Dessert: Fruit Pizza

Typically a fruit pizza is made with a sugar cooking crust, with cream cheese as the “sauce”. And it requires baking. But, this healthy fruit pizza recipe is no-bake and kid-friendly! 

a healthy afternoon snack of a fruit pizza with strawberries and blueberries sits on a cutting board. text overlay reads: 43 easy cooking activities for preschoolers

I love that it uses whole wheat pita and Greek yogurt as the base instead of cream cheese. It’s super kid-friendly and a great way to make healthy foods with your child.

Plus there are lots of opportunities to slice and cut fresh fruit. 

3 Healthy Snacks & Simple Recipe Ideas To Cook

Now let’s start cooking with gas, literally. These recipes are for when you want to kick it up a notch. You’ve done some fun, small tasks.  Made some easy no-bake recipes. Now it’s time to jump into some baking and cooking.

1. French Toast

French toast was the first meal my 3-year-old made where he did (mostly) everything up to the actual cooking part. I’m pretty sure he requested French Toast many times just so he’d have a chance to crack eggs (his favorite).

Here’s my simplified healthy version of French Toast (and how my preschooler helps). It’s one of our go-to recipes.

Toddler at a kitchen counter stirring a bowl of muffs demonstrating the benefits of cooking in early childhood


  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of milk
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste
  • ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 slice of bread
  • Butter for cooking

You can help your kid crack the egg into a wide-bottom bowl. Measure the milk and let them pour it into the bowl. Measure out the vanilla and cinnamon and let your kid pour it in. Give them a whisk or fork to gently mix it all up. Give them a slice of bread to put into the mixture and model how to turn it over.  When the mixture is absorbed, then the adult can cook it on the stove in butter.

2. Muffins

I’m not exaggerating when I say that muffins are saving my sanity right now with my picky eater. He stopped eating all his classics (no more quesadillas, rarely pasta, no pizza). And I’ve been starting to panic. Feeling like I’m running out of food options.

But then along came muffins

They are the perfect backing activity for preschoolers.  There are so many tiny tasks my 3-year-old can take on, so he’s super involved. And it never gets old because there are so many different recipes to explore.  

a preschooler is standing on a kitchen helper stool, pouring ingredients into a bowl to make muffins, an easy cooking activity for preschoolers.

I absolutely love the muffin recipes from Yummy Toddler Food. They are simple, straightforward, and include ingredients that I usually have. There’s rarely added sugar. Lots of vegetable options. And the best part of all: my kid loves them.

  • My kid’s favorite is the spinach muffin (which is a fun, vibrant green). 
  • My favorite ones are the savory cornbread-like broccoli & carrot muffins
  • And I love these applesauce muffins because most of the ingredients are shelf stable (except the milk, butter & egg). This is my go-to when we’re running low on groceries. And they are super fast b/c you can pretty much dump everything in without any prep.
  • My husband says these muffins taste like a homemade Clif bar.

Oh, and if you haven’t noticed. I eat a lot of these muffins too.

3. Quesadillas

I feel like the trick of getting my toddler to eat is finding the kid-approved food vessel (i.e. quesadilla, muffin, or pasta) and then figuring out a ton of variations of it.

The quesadilla was the original for us. I started making this easy spinach quesadilla for my son as a toddler. 

a quesadilla sits on a plate, as an easy recipe to cook with preschoolers that is healthy and can be adapted with a lot of variations

This is a wonderful recipe to cook together because it’s quick. It uses a food processor, so a great way to teach about food safety and that only adults use it. And your preschooler can help spread the spinach mixture onto the tortilla. It makes a great afternoon snack.

And you can get creative with variations of what you put inside. Like mashed black beans (that your kid can mash with a fork), or cooked sweet potatoes.

How To Take The First Step

Inviting your preschooler into the kitchen with you doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Make a promise to yourself that the next time you go to the kitchen, you’ll think of one tiny task they can help you with. 

Let them scoop, spread or slice.

They’ll be delighted to spend time with you, and you can be proud of all of the gooey developmental benefits you’re giving them.  

Let’s get cooking.

What’s Next?

  • Subscribe to my newsletter. I send one play activity idea, once a week, giving you some serious inspiration for what to do with your toddler or preschooler that week. I send out freebies and special treats, all for my email list.
  • Read the rest of my blog. It’s home to lots of play & learn activities, arts & crafts projects, activities to build your kiddo’s cognitive skills, and Montessori activity ideas and info.
  • Shop my printable activities. Explore nature-themed printable activities for your toddler and preschooler to help them learn through play. All hands-on activities — the healthiest way for your young kiddo to learn. And designed with watercolor artwork, so you’ll love adding it to your beautiful home.


  • Clark, H. R., Goyder, P., Bissell, P., Blank, L., & Peters, J. (2007). How do parents’ child-feeding behaviors influence child weight? Implications for childhood obesity policy. Journal of Public Health, 29(2), 132-141.
  • Dean, M., O’Kane, C., Issartel, J., McCloat, A., Mooney, E., Gaul, D., Wolfson, J. A., & Lavelle, F. (2021). Guidelines for designing age-appropriate cooking interventions for children: The development of evidence-based cooking skill recommendations for children, using a multidisciplinary approach. Appetite, 161
  • Ehrenberg, S., Leone, L. A., Sharpe, B., Reardon, K., & Anzman-Frasca, S. (2019). Using repeated exposure through hands-on cooking to increase children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables. Appetite, 142, 104347.
  • Gaul D, & Issartel J (2016). Fine motor skill proficiency in typically developing children: On or off the maturation track? Human Movement Science, 46, 78–85.
  • Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010). Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: two new school readiness indicators. Developmental psychology, 46(5), 1008–1017.
  • Han J.C., Lawlor D.A., & Kimm S.Y. (2010). Childhood obesity. Lancet, 375, 1737–1748.
  • Lavelle F, Benson T, Hollywood L, Surgenor D, McCloat A, Mooney E, Caraher M, & Dean M (2019). Modern transference of domestic cooking skills. Nutrients, 11, 870.
  • Son, Seung-Hee & Meisels, Samuel. (2006). The Relationship of Young Children’s Motor Skills to Later School Achievement. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 52. 755-778. 10.1353/mpq.2006.0033.

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