Teaching your toddler to help in the kitchen can be a daunting task, but it's one that can take away the stress of having to keep an eye on your kiddos while trying to prep dinner or a snack. Teaching your little ones about being in the kitchen can be fun and stressless with a few quick tips for cooking with toddlers!
This post is sponsored by Cuties. As always, all opinions are my own!
As a first-time mom, I didn't put a lot of thought into what my son would be like as a toddler. I processed motherhood and my growing baby boy one day at a time and in more of a survival mode than anything for the first year of my son's life. I found that after he was past the point of first learning to be mobile and had figured things out a bit more, it was much easier and more fun to include him in daily activities, rather than trying to fit those activities into nap times or bedtimes.
One of those daily activities for us is being in the kitchen. Apart from just eating three meals a day (not to mention all the snacks that toddlers require), I'm in the kitchen a lot testing recipes and shooting photos. I quickly realized that I was either going to need to figure out a way to let my son help me with those tasks or they weren't going to happen unless he was asleep or being watched by someone else.
Lucky for me, my son quickly took an interest in helping in the kitchen. We have a large island in the center of our kitchen that he can sit on and help me with prepping things like muffins or even watching while I chop vegetables. If you have a toddler or even a baby that you're thinking ahead for, here are a few tips to help make cooking with a toddler less stressful (and more successful)!
+ Safety first!
There are a few obvious things that should come to mind when thinking about safety first for toddlers when it comes to cooking. The first is, to use your judgment for activities that are safe for your child to help with and those that are not. A great example would be not letting your toddler help with grilling steaks, but letting your toddler stir the batter for blueberry muffins is a perfectly acceptable toddler task!
The second biggest element of safety for toddlers in the kitchen is where they will be while they are cooking. There are tons of useful and sturdy stools that kids can stand on and still be safe. If you have a large island or countertop, they can also sit there with parental supervision of course.
+ Start with "fake" recipes
When I first started "cooking" with my son, it was all about distraction. I'd give him a big bowl where he could stir together flour and oats while I worked on another recipe. This helped teach him to be gentle while stirring ingredients and also to visually see when the ingredients were mixed well together. Flour and oats are also cheap so I wasn't worried about "wasting" the ingredients or making a mess with them! You can also do this and then add a little bit of water to help them learn the differences between wet and dry ingredients.
I also think it's beneficial to let your toddler (or baby) watch you cook and tell your child what you're doing while you do it. This will help them learn without having to be "hands-on" so that once they do start helping, they already generally understand how the process works.
+ Use cooking as a teaching moment
There are so many lessons that toddlers can learn from helping in the kitchen. The two biggest that I try to teach my two-year-old son through cooking is obedience and following a list. Obedience is tied to safety. I try to teach him that he has to listen to mama while we're cooking or he doesn't get to help because it's not safe if he isn't obedient. The second one is teaching him that there is a general order to things. Often when I set out all of the ingredients for a recipe, he's anxious to dump them all into the bowl at once, but I use this as an opportunity to teach him that there's a specific way things have to be done in a recipe. Use this opportunity to gently correct things like using their hands to scoop or mix ingredients and instead show them how to use a measuring spoon or whisk.
Cooking is a great teaching moment for parents, too. I highly recommend using a recipe that you've already made before or one with simple steps and ingredients. Don't try to enlist your toddler's help in making chicken cordon bleu, especially if it's your toddler's first time helping you cook.
My son's help in the kitchen has also been a great opportunity to teach him what things are "not for babies" but only for adults like candy, treats or cookies. It's also a great way to teach him the safety of using tools like scissors or "sharp" tools like a pizza cutter or meat mallet.
+ Have snacks and distractions on hand
My son quickly learned all about licking the batter from the mixing bowl, which isn't always okay when the mixture has raw eggs in it. Toddlers quickly pick up on things like grabbing a chocolate chip while making cookies so if you don't want them to do that, it's a great idea to keep snacks on hand. We love keeping snacks like Cuties on hand to keep little hands out of the mixing bowls and distracted from grabbing kitchen tools they aren't supposed to use.
Taking a snack break is a great time to talk about what tasks you're working on while your toddler is watching or if you're snacking on Cuties while the cookies are baking in the oven, you can use that time to talk about the things your toddler just helped with. Toddlers learn SO much from watching and listening to us talk to them, so this is a great pause moment to really help them learn during these experiences!
+ Designate "toddler tasks" and "parent tasks"
Toddlers love to help but not all cooking steps are appropriate for a toddler. Occasionally I'll let my son help with cracking eggs or mixing liquids, but usually those are things that are reserved for Mama to do, not for Greyson. I've taught him since the beginning that not all of the steps are okay for him to help with, so that has taught him to be cautious with ingredients and not just throw things together (most of the time).
When you're working on a real recipe, this is a great way to move the process forward: let your toddler stir the dry ingredients together (which will take a while) and while they are occupied, stir together the wet ingredients. Usually if I'm combining ingredients, I'll stir them myself for a second or two to make sure flour or liquid won't go everywhere when my son takes over.
+ Know your child
Every toddler is completely unique and some toddlers may need more instructing than others. Some of our closest friends have commented before about how they couldn't let their toddler sit on the counter and help. That's totally okay. You know your child best, so set up a workspace that is most appropriate for their personality and behavior - even if that workspace is in their highchair!
You should also gauge your child's interest level in cooking. Just because it's something that a parent enjoys doing (or does because they have to!) doesn't mean a toddler will enjoy it right away. However, I think you can definitely teach your child that cooking is a fun experience and gradually help them understand it more and more.
+ Embrace the Mess
Cooking with a toddler will never be a spotless or perfect process. To me, that's part of the fun! To my husband, that's kind of a nightmare 😉 When you're cooking with a toddler, you have to go into it knowing there will be spills, ingredients that miss the bowl, and recipes that aren't 100% precise - again, that's part of the fun! This is exactly why I recommend starting with fake recipes and reserving the hard, have-to-be-precise recipes for when you can be focused and work on them without the distraction of a toddler eating the ingredients out of the bowl.
Our Favorite Toddler Cooking Tools
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Thank you again to Cuties for sponsoring today's post!