A Playbook for Getting Teens and Tweens to Cook This Summer

10 cooking skills every kid should know

I don’t know about your kids, but mine have fuller plates during the school year than I ever did as a kid. They study harder and play harder, not to mention those addictive little handheld devices that, when left unchecked, can soak up an inordinate amount of time.

Summer is a different story. Kids generally have more time on their hands, especially these days, and more downtime is an opportunity to get them in the kitchen more often. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a little playbook on getting your teens and tweens to cook this summer.

1. Choose a Schedule

Decide together on a regular schedule and which meal of the day your teen or tween will cook. You need their buy in to make it happen. In our house, the focus will be dinner. For you, breakfast or lunch may make better sense. Agree on how often they’ll cook, whether that means twice a week or twice a month. In our case, each of my three kids will alternate cooking one dinner a week, minimum. By summer’s end, they’ll each have cooked four family meals. Not a bad beginning without laying on too much pressure.

2. Figure out What They Want to Cook

As the parent, you get the choose the menu. Same thing should go for your kids. Get out of the way a bit, so they can sort out what appeals to them, even if it’s not your cup of tea (chili cheese dogs, anyone?). You might need to steer them in the direction of a recipe that is reasonably uncomplicated, since part of the point of this exercise is for them to see cooking as doable, not daunting.

3. Provide Recipe Resources

Point them to some of your favorite cookbooks to flip through or visit the cooking section of your local library. Alternatively, they may relate to online resources, such as The Kitchn, Pop Sugar, or Seventeen. You may even learn they have favorite recipe sources all their own. My oldest daughter, Bella, just made a terrific chickpea stew she found on an Instagram account called Let’s Cook Vegan. And there’s also my book PREP, which is tailor-made for young people.

4. Collaborate on the Shopping as Needed

Navigating the supermarket is an essential step on the road to being a cook. Ideally, your teen or tween does the shopping on his or her own. Next best is that you do it together, particularly if they’ve never shopped for a recipe before.  And if the shopping is going to be a barrier to getting them into the kitchen, gather their ingredients yourself and tackle that task down the road. Baby steps.

5. Wait in the Wings

Once it’s time to get cooking, be as much of a presence in the kitchen as your child requires based on their level of skill and confidence. If your 12-year-old has never lifted a knife before or turned on the oven, safety dictates she’ll need more guidance than your 17-year-old who has been cooking for 10 years. Use your instincts. At the same time, give them as wide a berth as you can tolerate. In my opinion, independence inspires confidence and a desire to keep cooking.  That’s the end game.

6. Provide Heaps of Praise

When dinner is done, relish it. Even if those chili dogs are the worst thing to pass your fair lips, don’t criticize. If they ask, you can start with praise and follow up with a small suggestion or two. Mostly, tell them how proud you are. This could be the beginning of something very good for your child and you want to keep the experiment going.

7. Do the Dishes

In our house, the cook doesn’t have to do dishes. It’s one of the major upsides of getting behind the stove and can be a major incentive for your teen or tween to keep on cooking.

What tips do you have for getting kids in the kitchen?

For more on kids and cooking you might like to read:

10 Cooking Skills Every Teen Should Know before They Leave the Nest

10 Ways to Get Kids Cooking.

15 Cooking Projects for Kids

Getting Teens to Cook


06.16.2017 at11:28 AM #

Ginger Hultin

Great post! I have fond memories of cooking in the summer as a young person

06.16.2017 at11:28 AM #

Katie Morford

It’s still my own favorite time of year to cook. So much more leisurely. Hopefully the kids will enjoy it too.

06.16.2017 at11:41 AM #

Anne|Craving Something Healthy

Love this post Katie! My kids always cooked with me when they were young, and when they each graduated from HS I made them a binder “cookbook” with all of their favorite recipes and a bunch of quick and easy dinner meals. I love hearing about what they’re cooking up now that they’re grown!

06.16.2017 at11:41 AM #

Katie Morford

What a wonderful idea, Anne…sharing all the recipe favorites. I might have to steal that one 🙂

06.18.2017 at9:20 PM #


This is fantastic idea. I’m totally doing this with my 2 girls!

06.18.2017 at9:20 PM #

Katie Morford

Oh Good! Hope it goes well and adds some fun to everyone’s summer.

06.26.2017 at11:39 AM #


I absolutely love this Katie! My girls are too little to cook themselves, but I can’t wait for the day that they can. These tips are so great for parents of older kids who are home for the summer!

06.26.2017 at11:39 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Jessica. I imagine by the time you get here, your girls will be well versed in the kitchen.

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