6 Tips for Cooking with a Toddler
February 1, 2016
Cooking is a passion of mine. I have always dreamed of sharing my recipes, teaching my techniques and experiencing successes and failures with my son. He is FINALLY old enough to enjoy it with me.
Since before he could walk, I have had him in the kitchen (standing on his kitchen helper) and pounding on the salad spinner. It was safe and he thoroughly enjoyed it. What kid wouldn’t?
He is now 16 months. The second I say “do you want to help mommy cook”, he drops whatever he is doing, puts a determined look on his face, and heads to the kitchen. He grabs the kitchen helper / learning tower, pushes it to the counter, and climbs on top… happy as can be!
Here are 6 Steps that I have found for making the process easier:
- Buy a Kitchen Helper / Learning Tower – it is a staple in our kitchen.
We have a small (very small) kitchen, so it does take up quite a bit of real estate, but I am totally okay with it since it brings him and me so much joy. We use it almost every day. The difference between a kitchen helper / learning tower and a step ladder is that when you are doing something unsafe, you just move the kitchen helper / learning tower to the center of your kitchen. Since it is enclosed on top and has a platform, it allows your child to still watch and be a part of the cooking process while keeping him/her safe. With a step ladder, you really cannot do that. The platform is simply not wide enough to provide the safe environment to go about your tasks. Also, step stools do not have the arm bar on top for them to hold onto or lean on (to get a closer look).
NOTE: There are several tutorials for building your own kitchen helper / learning tower on Pinterest. If you prefer to purchase a pre-made one, here are a few: Guidecraft Kitchen Helper Little Partners Learning Tower MDF Wood Little Helper FunPod
- Set out all of your supplies ahead of time.
It is important to have all ingredients, measuring spoons, bowls, etc. set out prior to inviting your son or daughter to cook with you. Toddlers have a short attention span, but tend to move in hyper mode. This is not the time to turn your back to get the vanilla from the other side of the counter. I always set out everything, re-read the ingredients list, etc. before inviting my son to help. Then, just before we get started, I move everything just beyond his reach.
- Talk, talk, talk… Just like reading a book is important, talking about daily tasks is just as important. I explain each ingredient, each process, and what we hope to make in the end. I don’t miss anything. It may sound silly to us, but it is a whole new world to them.
- Let them taste (as much as possible)! If there is a safe ingredient for my son to try, I let him try it. I was totally surprised the day my son decided he wanted to try a walnut. I thought for sure he wouldn’t like it. To me, they taste a tad bitter. However, he grabbed two or three more after the first one. Further proving my theory that kids who cook, eat healthier and try more foods. Had I sat a walnut in his high chair or handed it to him, I guarantee he wouldn’t have eaten it. He has put his finger in flour and tasted it. He didn’t like that, but it made for a cute face, nonetheless. I do not allow him to taste the dough when there is raw eggs in the mix (or other harmful ingredients).
- Let them do the work.
When I fill up a cup of flour or whatever, I help him dump it in a bowl. When there is a bowl in front of him, I let him do the stirring. It is more important to make your child feel confident than it is to worry about a few messes. In the photo, he is wearing the oven mitt, but I can assure you that he did not put the bread in the oven. He does however, love the oven mitt. He will often run around the house with it or put it on his teddy.
- Allow them to assist in the cleaning.
I feel it is important to show children that when there is a mess, we clean it up. Luckily at this stage in his childhood, he is eager to help. He wants to use the sponge. He wants to watch the wet sponge go across the dry flour and make it disappear. This is one of the magics of childhood. Mediocre events are fun! Things we do not think of are magical. I rinse the dishes, hand them to him, and he puts them in the dishwasher. No matter what order he puts them in, as long as it shuts, I let him shut it. I thank him for being such a big help and later when he is busy playing with something else, I will rearrange the dishes and start the load.
After cooking with my son, I noticed that he will try whatever we make. I take him with me to check on the progress and when it is done, I hold him while I take it out. I describe the entire process and make it exciting for him. I love cooking days!