Please note that when I say toddler in this post, I mean a kiddo under 21 months. Because I have no idea how cooking with a two+ year old is gonna go….yet!
The best parenting advice I’ve ever heard (and I don’t remember where I heard it!) was this: “Don’t do anything for your kids that they can do for themselves.” I think there are exceptions to this statement, so I’ve adapted the spirit of the above advice to mean “Teach your kids everything you can so that they can learn self-sufficiency.” As someone who highly values education, this really resonates for me. I don’t want to be one of those moms doing her kids’ laundry when they are hauling it home from college. I don’t want to have a child who leaves the nest and does not know how to clean a toilet or make a basic meal. I think it is extremely important for every family member to have a contributing role and to share responsibilities. So, I’m teaching my daughter everything I can and encouraging her from an early age to participate in the work of the household. I believe if you do it together, you can make it fun and everyone is less resentful and more respectful of each other’s efforts because the expectation is that everyone works and everyone plays!
I think toddlerhood is a great time to start teaching this value because it is a time when kids WANT to help and learn! They are little sponges and they want to do everything that big people are doing. So I’ve taught my daughter to help load the dryer and washer, to help wash floors, to pick up toys, to vacuum and dust, help unload the dishwasher and dry dishes, and my favorite shared task, to cook! During these hot summer days, when kids are stuck in the house, looking for some novel entertainment, cooking is a productive and fun activity to share!
Generally, what my daughter V and I like to do is bake. I started exposing V to the kitchen when she was but a wee infant as I would wear her in her Baby Bjorn carrier while I mixed and poured. At some point between 1 and 2, I started letting V pour ingredients into the bowl when I baked. Now, at 21 months, she frequently requests to “Cook, cook!” and so we do! Together, we have made chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, cupcakes, blueberry muffins, banana bread, pizza dough, bread, biscuits, and brownies. She has helped me pour pasta and selected the vegetables for the evening meal.
I know some parents are intimidated by the idea of letting a toddler loose in the kitchen; if you are one of these folks, I hope this post will give you some tips and tricks to help you feel more at ease with the idea. Cooking provides some great learning opportunities for little ones; they engage in different sensory experiences, they get early math exposure while watching you measure ingredients, they learn to pour and mix, about solids and liquids, the possibilities are many!
So here are my tips on cooking with a toddler:
First step is to teach them to wash their hands before preparing food! Start with a clean work surface that your toddler can easily reach. In my house, I clean the floor and then set her in front of the mixing bowls on the floor. I stand at the counter where I have gathered all of the necessary ingredients and hand them to V one at a time, indicating into which bowl she should pour them. Another option to consider is placing your little one in a booster or high chair pushed up to the table. If you have pre-measured ingredients, you can then hand them each item for them to pour and mix without having the distraction of little hands grabbing at ingredients while you are trying to measure. Then V mixes the ingredients; I help, and then I usually pour them into the prepared pan! Pretty simple and relatively mess free! She also likes to help operate the food processor by pushing the button and to hold the electronic mixer with me when we mix. V also likes to line muffin tins with baking cups for muffins or cupcakes. After she is done, I make sure she is food free before she leaves the room. My daughter is usually pretty neat, but accidents do happen. If you have a messy mixer, you can consider letting them cook wearing naught but their diaper or have them wear a special cooking smock. After I pop the item into the oven, (I’ve taught her to back away so that she is not near the hot oven door), I get out the vacuum and Swiffer mop to quickly tidy any mess. V helps me put any wrappers into the trash can. It sounds simple, and so far, we have not had any cooking fiascos!
I hope that these few tips have made it feel a little less daunting to cook with your kiddo! I am eager to hear your strategies and suggestions for cooking with kids, especially with older kids! Please feel free to share in the comment section!
*A book I am using with V, is “Mom and Me Cookbook: Have Fun in the Kitchen” by Annabel Karmel