Cooking with Toddlers Made Simple

Cooking with toddlers made simpleAfter sharing some thoughts yesterday on how to invent a recipes with kids (by opening your kitchen up as a lab for experimentation), I thought it might help if I backed up a bit and shared a few tricks that have helped me set the stage for kitchen experimentation.

Here are my top four tips on bringing toddlers into the kitchen, making cooking with little ones fun, and keeping it simple…

 chopping salad with toddler

TIP #1

Spend time in the kitchen. I’m a big advocate for bringing children into the kitchen at an early age.

Babies won’t do much in the kitchen, obviously, but the kitchen is full of sensory experiences that can grab hold of the attention. As soon as my kids could stand, they’ve been active observers; watching me chop, stir, mix, and pour.

TIP #2

Give them tools. And as soon as they show an interest, I give my kids small bowls to mix pretend batters and salads while I make the real thing right next to them.

My youngest is 18 months old, and she loves mixing just about anything. She’s not as efficient as I am, and she’s certainly not as neat, but I know that if I include her at this young age she’ll feel comfortable in the kitchen as she grows older.

TIP #3

Find some kid-friendly knives. Did you see that my toddler is wielding a knife?

kid knives curious chef

One of my most creative friends, Rebecca Jordan-Glum (she’s just building her Facebook page — visit her here: https://www.facebook.com/JordanARTandDESIGN ) turned me on to these incredible kid-friendly knives from Curious Chef. We bought this pack of 3 knives for under $10, and use them all the time. If they’re out of stock, you can also find the knives through other Curious Chef cooking packages.

My 3.5 year old knows where to find them and can help herself, and my 18 month old will ask for “knife.” My youngest doesn’t use the knife as its intended, but she wants to join the party and I’m not going to stop her.

The knives are appropriate for children ages 5 and up, so supervision is recommended for little ones.

toddler mixing salad

TIP #4

Involve them in simple cooking projects. When I’m having a long day and I’m not in the mood for a massive clean up, I’ll try to find neater cooking projects for my kids to help with. Chopping salad is one of these projects. Scooping flour is not. Spreading butter on toast is one of these projects. Making pancakes is not.

Cooking with Kids: Resources

I’m loving Foodie Parent. It’s hilarious and there’s a section of the site called “Cooking with Kids.”

Cooking with My Kid is a beautiful site, full of practical ideas. Macki describes herself as a “Foodie by day, microwaver by night, I set out to teach my kid (and myself) the art of cooking.” I’m kicking myself because she was at Blissdom, and we didn’t meet!

Do you like to cook with your kids? What are you favorite cooking-with-kids tips? What is the most challenging part of cooking with children? Do you have a favorite “neat” cooking project?

 

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    I love cooking with my toddler. I find vegetable washing to be a huge hit. I also let him prepare his own breakfast by spreading the jam or pouring the milk or slicing his banana, he loves it and it gives me a chance to make my coffee.

    • Rachelle says

      Ooooh, vegetable washing. That’s a good one. How do you set this up? At the sink or in a little tub? And what a sane and calm way to begin your day. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.

      • Anonymous says

        I have a colander that stretches across the sink, he stands on a chair and gets to spray like crazy. He has even learned how to strip chard! There are always a few bites missing from the carrots which pleases me very much.

  2. Kim @ The Educators Spin On It says

    There is so much fun to be had with cooking with children!  We have a whole series of Little Hands that Cook with Books.  I created this series from lessons that I’ve taught my daughter and her friends over the past few years.  We love how much your children can learn in the kitchen too.  We’d love for you to stop by and find a few recipes for your little ones.  http://theeducatorsspinonit.blogspot.com/search/label/Little%20Hands%20That%20Cook 

  3. says

    I love cooking with my son.  He loves to try anything but I think his favorite is cracking eggs.  The most challenging part is when he wants to help and I am in a hurry for what ever reason and just need to get it done.  My tip…if you have an egg cracker, have him/her crack the eggs into a separate bowl before adding them to the rest of the ingredients in case any shell falls in, it’s much easier to fish out!   

    • Faziomaria5 says

      When I crack eggs with my class we always do the trick where you hit 2 eggs together–one will always crack and other stay whole. Preschoolers are very impressed..:)

    • Rachelle says

      Good idea, Heather! Thanks for sharing this with us. Now I want to go crack some eggs!

  4. says

    Another great thing to use is just a simple butter knife. They can be used to cut apples into tiny pieces when making an apple pie or for a snack. Kitchen time is so important….this is where kids learn how to cook for the future.  My daughter always loved the Melissa and Doug cutting set in which you can cut wooden fruits attached by velcro. 

    One kitchen tool worth the investment is a non electric hand mixer to help beat up all kinds of concoctions.

    • Rachelle says

      We love that wooden fruit cutting set too. So clever! You know, Melissa, I’ve had a hand-held mixer on my list for the longest time, and when I finally spotted one recently I was shocked at how much it cost. I’ll have to do a more thorough search because I think you’re absolutely right — they are super fun tools for kids.

  5. Sheau Ching Lee says

    This looks so much fun. Hmm don’t have a neat cooking project in mind, but Eiya loves to make guacamole. We make guacamole with hands… squeezing and mashing then the ending is licking of green fingers. After that, she looks pretty neat. : >

    • Rachelle says

      Oh, how we love to eat guacamole. It must be a California thing. So Eiya does all the mixing with her bare hands?! You are one brave mama, and I can see why she’d love that. Mmmmm.

  6. Faziomaria5 says

    I’m a preschool teacher and when I allow kids to really cook–to mix and pour and chop and roll–and each make their own creation, like a muffin, or cut up fruit, etc.–I prepare a tray of them to bake off ahead of time so the snack is sanitary. Kids being, well, kids. I learned this after one of my students sneezed out a big–well, use your imagination–all over our pasta dough.

    • Rachelle says

      Oh my, I can imagine! Thanks for sharing the preschool perspective. So the food that the kids work on doesn’t get eaten? 

    • Rachelle says

      Sweet! I’m so glad to read that this inspired you, Krista! Please report back if you have a chance. And have fun!

  7. Emilee says

    My almost two year old loves to roll out dough. Whenever I’m making bread or tortillas, she gets a little ball of it and gets to play with it. My husband very bravely also lets her crack eggs. There’s a separate bowl for her to crack them in, and she still drops the shell in too, but then he fishes it out. She absolutely loves it!

    • Rachelle says

      Do you have one of those fab tortilla presses too? If not, my daughter first used one at the play dough station at her preschool, at around age 2, and loved it. I wish she was more brave with eggs, but she’s not into getting goopy things on her hands…something to work on! Thanks for the great tips!

  8. M Wall says

    I have dogs, so as long as we are not cooking with grapes, chocolate, onions, etc., they are happy to take care of the mess! Pizza is a favorite. With all the colors and textures on a saucy canvas, it is like an art project too. 

    • Rachelle says

      Of course, with the volume of scraps that heap onto my flour, dogs would be in big trouble (or quite content) in my kitchen! And I agree with you on pizza — almost anything goes. It’s one of our favorite collaborative meals too.

  9. says

    As soon as my girls were old enough to sit in a high chair, I would wheel it into the kitchen and position it so they could watch me and still be safe. Often, I would give them wooden spoons, plastic bowls, empty pasta boxes, or anything else that was non-breakable and safe. They felt like they were participating and were having a fun sensory experience. 

    Now that they’re older, both girls help me in the kitchen. My 4-1/2-year-old is already learning how to safely use a knife (she’s only allowed a butter knife). She loves to stir, whisk, roll out dough, etc. She’s becoming quite a pro at pizza dough! I’m going to have to check out the knives you posted… those look awesome!

    • Rachelle says

      Right! It’s never too early to bring kids into the kitchen, and for all the points you raised. The sensory experiences are so rich. Scooping, feeling rice in the fingers, squishing bananas. It’s all wonderful and builds a familiarity with the kitchen from the beginning. I would be thrilled if my kids could take over pizza dough making! Thanks for the nice comment, Terri!

    • Rachelle says

      Aren’t they cool? I was so grateful to learn about them, and my kids now ask to chop along with me all the time.

    • rachelle says

      no problem :) my kids like butter knives too, for spreading and softer foods like avocado and butter.

  10. says

    Rachelle, I have to tell you my son was so excited when I found a knife very similar to these at TJMAXX of all places! He sliced strawberries with it for me :)

    • rachelle says

      That’s a great tip, Heather. Lucky you to find them there. Strawberries are the perfect thing to cut with these knives. In fact, N was cutting strawberries and peaches with hers this morning!

  11. Sarah Taylor says

    I try to have both of my sons in the kitchen with me.. little kitchens don’t help.. but they fit easily on the bar stools.. (3yo and 5 yo) They always get to season the water and they are my spice helpers.. if the holes in the lids are too big.. I pour it into their hands first.. The last time we cooked together, we were baking monkey bread (turned out to be more like monkey balls lol) We set up an assembly line.. I rolled the balls, one of them dipped them in the butter and the other rolled in the cinnamon/sugar mixture.. they LOVE helping.. :)

  12. Heather S. says

    Those knives are awesome! I think that may be something to look into for us. Thanks for the idea and the link!
    Like you, I think cooking is a very important experience for kids. Not only does it teach a life skill and chemistry, but it also helps them to realize where food comes from and builds an appreciation for whole foods. In the spring, I will have my 3 year old son help me plant, tend and harvest the garden to further this point. The baby will be out there with us too, but maybe in the stroller or playpen-his older brother had a penchant for eating dirt that I’d rather not have my youngest discover. :) I think helping prepare our meals has convinced my son to try more foods and be less picky overall (he still has his PB&J favorite though.)
    I love to cook with my son. He washes the produce. I put a bowl of produce on the counter and a colander in the sink (after I disinfect the sink in case he misses or drops them. He pulls up a chair so he can reach.). He also gets to help me put the extra stuff in, like cut up (I cut them) potatoes and carrots in the crock pot with the roast or other veggies in the pan with whatever meat we’re having, pour the bullion/spices or sprinkle the seasoning over it all and put the lid on. When we bake, I measure and he pours the ingredients in the mixing bowl and helps to mix and stir. He LOVES when we use the stand mixer. Sometimes, he gets ahead of me and mixes the wets with the drys too soon, but so far, it hasn’t caused any major problems. If I’m cooking for a friend or event where it needs to look nice, I’ll do it after he’s in bed. :) He gets to put the “toothpicker” in the muffins or cake too, to make sure they’re done, supervised and being careful not to burn himself on the pan of course. Tonight, he’ll help me tear the lettuce for tacos and set the silverware and napkins on the table.

  13. Bonnie says

    So many good tips! Do you mind sharing the recipe for the salad you guys are working on in the photos above?

  14. says

    My son is a bit younger than his friends, and they are all having their second birthdays. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single one of them got a play kitchen for their 2nd birthday. That’s great, I guess, but I don’t see the need for it, as my son just helps me in the real kitchen, and I love that! He does very simple things now, mostly pouring, or helping stir, but its better than throwing plastic food all over my living room. The sensory and learning experiences just aren’t the same when you’re playing with fake food!

    • rachelle says

      I can see your point, Gina! My children have a play kitchen, and while it gets used occasionally, it’s not nearly as popular as the real thing. I would, however, highly recommend a mud pie kitchen, which is fabulous for creating all sorts of lovely mud/grass/flower concoctions. I bet your son would love one. Have you seen our post on it? http://tinkerlab.com/2011/07/fine-tuning-the-mud-kitchen/
      Thanks for the comment, Rachelle

  15. Cassandra says

    One of my favorite things to use with my children in the kitchen is the Learning Tower. (http://www.mylearningtower.com/) It’s this little platform that safely brings young kids up to the same level as you so they can see what you’re doing and work along side you.

  16. Leigh says

    I often make Banana Bread (or muffins) with my 3.5 yr old and she LOVE LOVE LOVE’s it. I let her mash up the bananas, sometimes with a spoon and other times with her hands (if I’m feeling ok with cleaning up a mess that day LOL). Then I go about measuring out each ingredient, I let her dump it in the bowl and stir it up (I go behind at the end and give it some stronger stirring, of course), and then once it’s in the pan I let her help carry it over to the oven. She feels like she made the bread (and essentially she did) and is SO proud of herself for it. We have a loaf in the oven right now actually, LOL.

    • rachelle says

      Hi Leigh, I can almost smell your banana bread! I’m so glad that you shared your experience with cooking with your child, and I love the bit about mashing up the banana with bare hands. I can’t believe that I’ve never encouraged that! I go through essentially the same process with my kids and they will fight over who gets to pour the ingredients into the bowl. We’ve finally figured out a strategy for dividing the work, and I love that they enjoy it so much that it’s more fun than chore.

  17. Cherie says

    I am a huge advocate of getting kids involved into the kitchens and learning about where there food comes from and what foods are beneficial to them. Your salad looks AMAZING! Would you mind sharing what you put inside? I also LOVE the knives! Such a great idea! I just ordered them! Thanks!

  18. Amber says

    Thank the lord I logged into Pinterest this morning ere in the UK! My 18 month old has been sitting on the floor “mixing” with her wooden spoon for a few months and this post has given me the confidence to get her more involved! Thank you SO much! :)

    • rachelle says

      I’m just catching up on comments, and this made my day!!! I’m so happy to read this, Amber. Please keep me posted on what works for you as you launch into cooking together.

  19. says

    I love this post! My son has been in the kitchen since the age of 2. He’s 6 now and has become a great little chef. I am a big advocate of getting kids to be leaders in the kitchen and it has to start early. I am going to share this post on our Facebook page. Thanks!