Toddler’s love to help. They like (un)folding your laundry, loading the dishwasher, sweeping, wiping and dusting. Don’t you wish they would keep up this ambitious desire well into their teenage years? Well, another place toddlers can learn to help, while learning valuable developmental skills, is the kitchen. Yes, toddlers CAN help you cook!
Allowing your child to help you in the kitchen from a very young age encourages him to develop an interest in preparing foods and sparks his interest in healthy foods. It may even get him to try foods he was unwilling to try in the past.
How can my 18 month old possibly help me in the kitchen? Let’s discuss a few ideas. You know how Samantha loves to stir in the empty pots and pans, and nest the measuring cups together and rinse her hands at the sink while standing on a step stool? Let’s use those skills to move onto actual helpful cooking skills.
First off, baby proof your kitchen and prep area. Put sharp items such as knives, peelers, graters and glassware in a child proof cupboard or drawer. Use your dining table, a center island (with safe step stool) or counter space away from the stove and hot liquids as a place for your child’s work space.
- Washing veggies & fruits: This is SO much fun for toddlers and an easy task that almost any child can do. You can use the sink, or give them a bowl/large container of water and let them rinse apples, berries, cucumbers, broccoli, etc while you discuss the type of fruit or veggie and talk about its texture and color. For example, “Berries are squishy, don’t squeeze too hard” (but it’s ok to experiment squishing one or two to get the idea across). Or “The apple is smooth and red” or “This sweet potato is rough and lumpy and orange”.
- Stirring: Let your child use a wooden spoon or other large spoon to stir ingredients. Use hand over hand guidance to help him practice until he gets the hang of mixing and stirring without too much spilling. He can use one hand to hold the bowl, while the other hand stirs, making this a nice two handed fine motor activity.
- Garnishing/Sprinkling: Let your child sprinkle sunflower seeds or nuts onto a salad. Or top the pizza with shredded cheese. Or shake spices into a dish before cooking. Or drizzle olive oil onto a salad.
- Mashing: Let your toddler use a potato masher or her bare hands to mash and squish soft cooked potatoes, avocado, etc.
- Pouring: Once you’ve measured ingredients, be it dry or liquid, let your toddler dump/pour the ingredients into the mixing bowl for you. This works on wrist rotation skills.
- Cookie baking: There is nothing more fun for a child than using a rolling pin or their hands to help roll the dough that’s eventually going to made into delicious cookies! Also let your child use cookie cutters to create shapes or animals (cookie cutters can also be used to make fun shapes out of sandwich bread, fruits, veggies, or omelets).
- Washing Dishes: Some toddlers love to help with dish washing. If you have a double sink your toddler can have a few dishes on his side of the sink, while you wash on the other side or simply share the sink side by side. For those with dishwashers, allow your child to unload or load small or non-glass items. They can even be enlisted to sort utensils into low drawers & stack spoons, forks and non-sharp knives. They can nest plastic bowls such as Tupperware for you, working on the concept of size.
I am sure you can think of lots of other ways to get creative with your toddler in the kitchen. You’ll be surprised what a child can learn by watching you prep and cook meals, and by the time your child is school age they’ll be willing and able to prepare their own snacks and meals!