If you’re like many parents, just the title of this blog post is conjuring up images of spills, various sticky splotches all over the counter, and powdery white flour covering every surface and every inch of your toddler after she knocks it over. Combine this with sharp objects and hot surfaces, and it’s easy to see how cooking with your little one might not yet seem like the best idea.
But while there will most likely be some messes along the way, studies show that children who are involved in preparing their food tend to make healthier choices and are less likely to be picky eaters. Toddlers imitate behavior more often in their stage of life than at any other stage, providing a perfect window for beginning to teach them the basics of food, kitchen safety, and self-confidence in making healthy choices.
Here are some simple ways to get your toddler involved in the kitchen!
Start with a spoon. Stirring dry ingredients, liquids, or batters is one of the easiest tasks for a toddler to try. Your steady hand may be needed to keep the bowl from tipping, but offering a spoon or whisk with a thick handle will help your toddler achieve better coordination.
Work with water. Younger toddlers who love playing with water will enjoy this tip. Show her how to hold fruits and vegetables under the faucet, scrub them with a produce brush, then gently dry them off. (Also model the importance of hand-washing before cooking!)
Try hands-on recipes. Baking recipes like breads and cookies offer a fun opportunity for toddlers to use their hands directly. Show him how to make little balls to put on the cookie sheet, or how to knead bread dough. The results won’t be perfect, but your little one will be so proud of his handiwork!
Remind them of dangers. This one’s pretty obvious, but reinforce that certain kitchen tools go “ouch” and that it’s not time yet to eat certain foods until after they have been in the oven.
Give them choices. Older toddlers will love making “big kid” decisions about their food, especially if they get to help prepare it. For example, ask if they would like banana slices or blueberries with their lunch, then help them use a butter knife to make the slices, or show them how to rinse blueberries under the faucet before putting them on their plate.
Start a simple routine. For cooking multiple recipes with your toddler over time, start a routine to give them something to look forward to and gain confidence in the kitchen. For example, mommy/daddy may always measure the ingredients, but your toddler can always dump the measuring cups into the bowl. Another routine can even be as simple as getting your little one a children’s apron. Besides keeping her clean, this can help serve as a cue for getting ready to cook together, and give her something of her own to use every time in the kitchen.
Have fun! It’s normal to be nervous about letting a toddler into the working areas of the kitchen for the first time, but as you watch out for his safety, try to relax and allow you both to enjoy the experience. Afterwards, you can even hand him a paper towel to help you clean up!
What are some ways you like to spend time with your little one in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below!