As a mom, who doesn’t like a little more help around the kitchen? I can’t think of a better time to solicit help than summer, when extra hours have us – and our kids – begging for activities.
When K-Bear turned 18-months-old, I quickly learned she wanted to help with everything, including cooking. Her little body would exert all the effort she had to push a stool from the corner of the kitchen right up to the counter next to me where she would eagerly ask for a boost up. Ever since, she’s become my favorite sidekick in the kitchen.
I quickly discovered that cooking satisfied not only her eagerness to help, but also her natural curiosity. In return, I’ve come to cherish both the quality time and the learning opportunity that it provides. Each vegetable and fruit piled next to my cutting board becomes a lesson in color, texture, and flavor: taste this orange carrot; feel the bumpy yellow lemon; smell the green pepper.
Want to jump in on the kitchen fun, but not sure where to start? Don an apron, follow these tips and you too can have a pint-sized sous chef in no time:
- Safety comes first. Keep all sharp and breakable objects out of reach. This includes those in any drawers near where she may be “helping” as she will undoubtedly open them and start digging around. Choose a work area well away from the stove or other hot surfaces. Be sure the stool she occupies is sturdy, and that she is physical safe on it. Never leave her unattended.
- Keep expectations realistic. Your budding chef has certainly not mastered any kitchen skills (yet), but that’s ok. Let her try her little fingers at mixing, rolling, and kneading before you step in to finish. Steady her hand as she pours liquids. And remember that toddlers lose interest quickly. Don’t be surprised if she climbs down half-way through; in fact, expect it.
- Provide kitchen tools for play. Ultimately, a toddler just wants to play. Give her a variety of safe items with which to pour, scoop and stir while she’s helping. Wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, and plastic measuring spoons and cups are all good choices.
- Explain as you move along. Talk your way through each step and give her something to do along the way. In addition to helping keep your toddler engaged, she will absorb language while learning to follow directions: place the noodles in the pan; sprinkle the cheese on the pizza; pour the milk into the blender; count the eggs as we crack them.
- Allow taste buds to flourish. Inevitably, as you chop, stir and prepare, your toddler’s hand will reach into piles and bowls. With the exception of foods not safe to consume raw or those that may cause distress (no cayenne or jalapenos, please!) allow her to taste what she wants as you go. Really, there is no better way to begin a love for real, fresh, and healthy food!
- Be ready to clean up a mess (or two). Certainly, cooking with a toddler creates more of a mess than you might make on your own. Remember that it’s nothing a sponge or dish towel can’t wipe up.
- Promote pride in the final product. Once a dish is cooking, lift your child a safe distance away and let her peak in the pot, or turn on the oven light and point through the window. At the table, exclaim how tasty the meal and praise the help she provided.
Sure, there are plenty of times this mom wants to cook uninterrupted, without being asked a million questions or cleaning up extra mess. But mostly, after a busy day or a ragged week, I am thankful for the one-on-one time that the kitchen provides us, a chance for me to teach and her to learn.
Homemade pizza is a perfect dish to start with, as are these hummus roll-ups and smoothie popsicles. Whatever meal you start with, you’ll quickly taste the joy to be had in sharing a healthy meal with your toddler - from start to finish.
Note: I originally wrote this post for Mile High Mamas. Stop on by and check them out!