Wait. No. Hold up. Okay. Now just pour that. Wait. Slowly. Stop! You’re spilling! Okay. Try it again. No! Stop!” Anyone that has ever had a child come into the kitchen to ‘help’ cook a meal understands the frustration (and list of commands) that comes when cooking with children. I am not as patient of a parent as I’d like to be in many situations. I too have had my share of irritations as my young kids have roamed the kitchen at dinnertime wanting to assist me. However, I believe teaching kids to cook, and doing so at a young age, is important.
Michelle Stern, author of The Whole Family Cookbook agrees, “While the idea of cooking with toddlers may seem like a recipe for disaster, it’s actually an excellent strategy that will provide multiple benefits - both to you and your child.” Stern elaborates, “By bringing your toddler into the kitchen, you will help them to learn about and taste new foods, work on their fine and gross motor skills, practice listening and following simple instructions, and expand their vocabulary. Of course, it will also give you some excellent bonding time too!”
My children became regulars in the kitchen when they reached age two. If you can stand on a chair without falling off, then you’re ready to help cook. The best thing about starting with a toddler is that they are willing to help. Toddlers want to do as you do, and cooking is no different.
Becoming comfortable cooking with a toddler doesn’t come with an exact recipe, but here are five tips I’ve discovered make the experience more enjoyable for everyone:
Make sure you’re in a relaxed state of mind. No one is going to have fun cooking if you’re not having fun cooking.
Making a gourmet meal with 20 ingredients isn’t the time to involve the kids. Start slowly with toddlers and ask for their help making one easy recipe. For example, my toddler helps me make a spaghetti sauce that includes less than 10 ingredients. I brown the ground beef, open the tomato sauces, and measure the ingredients. My helper gets to deposit all the elements together.
Pre-measure what you can. I love making chocolate chip cookies, and my toddler loves to help too. When I plan on making baked goods that require a lot of precise measuring, I try to pre-measure everything and place them in little bowls. My toddler can then help by simply picking up the bowls and dumping them into the mixer. It’s like watching my own cooking show!
Holiday cooking sounds like the perfect time to involve kids in the kitchen. However, the holidays are stressful, and now might not be the time for extra cooks in the kitchen. If you’re making something with the intention of sharing it with others, this is not the time when it will be okay for your toddler to accidentally over-measure the paprika! Find an easy holiday recipe that can be made with your small chef and shared just within your home.
If possible, be spontaneous. Toddlers are ‘on-the-fly’ people. Your little one is more apt to participate if helping is their idea. If you’re making dinner and your toddler wanders into the kitchen, now is the time to find age-appropriate tasks for them to help out with.
Cooking skills of a toddler
Uncomplicated tasks are perfect for little hands. These real-life skills are great introductions to cooking.
Scooping - All that practice in the sandbox and dirt makes toddlers great at scooping ingredients. Let your little one scoop the measuring cup into the flour, sugar, rice, etc.
Dumping - Load the spices and herbs onto the measuring spoon and hand it over to your toddler to dump into the bowl. They will love watching the ingredients pile up.
Directing - Toddlers aren’t coordinated or strong enough to pour liquids into measuring cups but they do love to boss you around! Show your sous chef which line on the glass measuring cup you need to fill up to and ask them to tell you when to stop.
Mixing - There is something gratifying about combining ingredients together in a bowl and watching how it changes shape, color, or texture. Allow your toddler to do the first mixes before you take your turn at mixing.
Finding - Gathering all the utensils and bowls within your toddler’s reach is an easy way for them to help. While you gather the ingredients, they can hunt for the wooden spoon or the white bowl. You’ll be surprised how well your toddler knows their way around your kitchen!
Kim is a freelance writer with published stories on a variety of websites. For more information, visit kimmower.com.
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