Do you like to cook with your kids? It’s not always the easiest thing for me to do; we have a tiny kitchen and limited counter space, but I try to find ways to integrate my kids into the kitchen routines when I can.

Why? Because cooking, experimenting, and learning about the interaction of ingredients builds creative thinkers, gives my kids a solid footing  and confidence in the kitchen (hey, I’m priming them to cook for me one day!), and it’s a wonderful way to bond and share stories about family traditions and food adventures.

butter and rosemary

20 month old Baby R (who’s hardly a baby anymore) likes to spend time in the kitchen, but she’s not the best helper in the world. So I try to drum up activities that will keep her hands busy and her mind engaged while I cook.

The other day we were baking bread and the recipe called for rosemary and a pat of butter. As I pulled the flour, yeast, maple syrup, milk, salt, and butter together, I also cut two tablespoons of butter off the end of the stick and chopped it into rough pieced for R to handle.

The slippery texture was captivating.

I handed her a few sprigs of rosemary to handle and poke into the butter.

cooking with kids

After squishing the butter for a bit she really wanted to cut the butter like me, so I gave her a small butter knife and showed her how to hold it. She cut butter for about fifteen minutes before tiring of this, which gave me just enough time to pull the bread dough together.

I’m not one for wasting food, but we did throw the gooey mass of butter and rosemary away when we were done.  I suppose I could have saved it, but there was a lot of finger licking going on and I wasn’t ready to go there. However, I liken this experience to playing with play dough (made from flour and oil) or dry beans, both materials that we use for imaginative and sensory play. When children learn to handle real food they build a relationship with it and gain a stronger understanding of its properties.

So, the next time you’re in the kitchen, if you don’t already do this, look around for something sensory for your toddler to explore. You might also enjoy reading Cooking with Toddlers, where I share a few tips including our favorite kid-friendly knives.

If you have a preschooler or school age child, you might like this fun post on how to invent a recipe with kids, where I share some ideas on how to foster a spirit of experimentation by building a pancake recipe from scratch.

And when my kids want to play in the kitchen, but they’re not interested in helping, I often slide this big tub of wheat berries out from under a counter for them to explore. It often makes a big mess, but it keeps them entertained while I cook and it’s easy enough to vacuum up when they’re done.

What do your kids like to do while you cook?


  1. Great idea! I believe birds can eat unsalted butter, so I was thinking maybe I’d mix in some bird seed so they can enjoy it when we are done. I’ll check to be sure!

    • Oh, that’s such a great idea. Please let me know if you find the answer!

  2. My daughter experimented with food and cooking similarly when she was a toddler. Once in awhile I did try to bake her experiments, and sometimes they ended up tasting pretty good. But most of the time we threw it out. We have never played with butter before. I am curious to see how she would enjoy playing with it. Butter is the perfect material to practice cutting.

    • We cooked up one of my daughter’s experiments today and she rejected it, which made for a great discussion about what we should omit next time. Turned out she POURED hot pepper flakes into the mix and learned her lesson. 🙂 I hope you gals have fun with the butter. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I find for me that it’s really easy to overlook learning opportunities for my daughters that I sometimes think of as drudgery.

    Just last night I invited my daughter to do the dishes with me. We had so much fun. We got the dishes done faster too.

    She loved the sensory experience of the water, the different textures of the ceramic dishes, the dish washing brush, experimenting with the soap and bubbles.

    I had an “Oh yeah, she’s only been on the planet for three years” moment and laughed.

    • That’s so funny, Amber. I tried bringing mine into the kitchen to wash dishes today (because I really needed the help) and she turned me down. I guess they can get jaded quickly, so try to enjoy those moments as much as you can. And foster a love for dish washing if you can, as well 🙂

    • Mmmm, that looks so yummy, Hannah. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  4. Wonderful post Rachelle! I love how you involved your little one in the cooking experience 🙂 My daughter is 11 months and loves to be nearby when her brother (3 1/2) and I bake or cook. We normally get her busy with the plastics draw, or pop her in her high chair and give her measuring cups. Can’t wait for her to join in more ~ we already have an apron for her 🙂 My son and I have a baking day each week and he loves to make things, each time I go in the kitchen he wants to know what he can do!

    Thanks so much for sharing on Happy lil ❤’s are baking!!

    • Thanks Kelly. It’s fun to explore the kitchen with kids at all their stages. My almost 4 year old is really into grinding coffee, working the blender, and generally pushing any buttons that make things happen. I love it!

  5. Thanks for all the ideas for getting kids in the kitchen! I have had my kids help me with recipes in the past, but thanks to your posts, they have been doing more “inventing” on their own. I was worried about wasting food, but so far they have managed to make edible treats (with just a little guidance)… and they are so proud of their concoctions!

    I’ve never knew a cake with cheddar cheese slices in it could actually taste good!

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