Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

At what age can children be left to fend for themselves as far as breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

share|improve this question
By 12-13, I was comfortable being home alone for a while (like on summer vacation when everyone was at work) and I could prepare a wide variety of breakfast and lunch foods. Dinner I could make but someone was always home by then. I was taught to cook as part of my upbringing so I wasn't thrown into the kitchen to fend for myself. Everything I knew to make, someone had previously shown me what to do. – RachelC Jan 9 at 14:56
It not really a question of age but a question of ability. Do the kid have the ability to make food. What type of food are you thinking about? There's different age for making a sandwich and using a gaz stove. Make them practice a little everyday while you cook. – the_lotus Jan 12 at 16:37

What a child can do is not the same as what a parent should allow them to do or what a parent should force them to do.

If one left whole-grain crackers and cereal on the counter and stocked the fridge with milk, cheese cubes, hummus, fruit, and cut-up veggies, a three-year-old could certainly feed herself whenever she was hungry and satisfy every nutritional need. We don't do this because children have emotional needs as well as physical ones. Children need to be nurtured/cared for by human beings for their brains to develop properly.

Children need to know that their parents are taking care of them and will defend them and protect them and keep them safe. Children need to be smiled at and hugged and talked to and responded to. Offering food is part of nurturing. Children learn that they are cared for, and that their parents want them to be healthy and happy and are willing to work -- and argue with them -- to make that happen.

The age a child should be made to take responsibility for feeding themselves varies from child to child and culture to culture. A twenty-two-year old living in your house is old enough; you may negotiate an arrangement in which you provide the meals, but it is not required. A six-year-old should not be made to do this. They still need nurturing from their parents; their brains are still developing. There might be a situation where it is necessary occasionally, or even for 1-2 meals each day -- e.g., if a single parent has to work long hours -- but that is in the context of necessity, and you make it clear that it's not by your choice. You don't do this because you decide it's too much bother to feed your kids when you could be playing video games. (Though letting your kids get their own cereal on Saturday morning, thereby allowing you to sleep in, will not hurt them, and teaches them that they can do things on their own.)

Beyond this... if you are doing a good job as a parent, making your kids feel loved and secure and teaching them how to take care of themselves and to do some chores around the house, at some point they start to feel ready to take on the responsibility of feeding themselves. At this point, encourage it!

Let your five-year old make her own PBJ, let your seven-year-old heat soup in the microwave. Teach your twelve-year-old to make a pot roast for the family dinner. If you are in the kitchen, ready to eat with them when they are done, wonderful; this is part of helping them grow up. If you need to be gone or sleeping when they do this, all right, it's necessary. If it's the weekend/vacation and your kids are independent and comfortable with fixing themselves a nutritious meal for their lunch, you can let that be the plan for the day. But until they are eighteen (on average, and in most U.S. cultures; children mature at different rates, and cultures vary), you should provide at least one sit-down meal daily (home-cooked by preference, but a healthy breakfast of cereal, fruit and yogurt works if it has to), during which you take the time to demonstrate that you are an engaged, caring parent -- no matter how pressed for time you are.

share|improve this answer
Don't let a seven year old hear soup in a microwave!! Microwaves create dangerously hot foods with decpetive cold spots. – DanBeale Feb 10 '14 at 18:19
Teach them the pattern of - Microwave for half the time, Stir the food, Microwave the rest of the time, and stir the food before tasting. A 7 year old can do that, its part of the recipe. – RachelC Jan 9 at 15:00

Depends on the child, at 6 my daughter could easily make a peanut butter sandwitch or a bowl of cereal... But at 8 my son didn't do either. Now they are 13 and 11, and cook one full family meal a week!

I don't think it's bad to have a child make some of their own meals, it's how they learn. I don't mean you should stick them with a microwave meal 3x a day so you never cook... But making some is good for them, in my opinion.

share|improve this answer

Depends on what you consider a meal. Peanut-butter and Jelly sandwiches? 5 or 6, I expect. Something hot or that requires a knife? You'd have to spend time cooking with them to know when it would be ok.

My kids could make batter from scratch and cook pancakes on an electric griddle by themselves at eight, but I wouldn't let them do it without an adult close at hand until maybe 10, spaghetti at about the same age.

It takes a lot of time working with them to make sure they are safe . . . keep hot surfaces clear, pot handles back, don't leave knives hanging off the edge of the counter . . . safety is the important part.

share|improve this answer

I would say about the age of 6-7 is a good time to start learning making sandwitches and heating milk/pre-made meals in microwave. It may come in handy once the kids go to school instead of kindergarden.

Working with tosters, induction plates, other things that get hot but are otherwise safe - some time after they have mastered making sandwitches. 8-9 yo I guess.

Operating gas stoves, grills, things there's reall flame, or handling really sharp meat knives - again, later. 12-13 I think would be a good time to start.

All those things have to be started under supervision, then, as the kids understand how everything works and become more proficient and accustomed to the dangers, the supervision may be dropped.

share|improve this answer

My son has just turned 12, but at the age of 11 he was making noodles, pizza, fish, chips, etc. on our flavour chef, an electric cooker appliance. If I'm out he can have something warm.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.