It’s easy to hand your toddler a tablet or phone to distract them while you to cook dinner. But instead of letting them swipe and tap the time away, how about getting them to pour, stir and measure? Toddlers love to help in the kitchen. If they start at a young age, it can inspire a lifelong love of cooking—and of food in general. Kids who learn to cook are less likely to be picky eaters, and more likely to enjoy a wide variety of foods (especially vegetables) as they grow.
Not sure where to start? You are the best guide of what your toddler is capable of doing, but begin with these suggestions, which are appropriate for toddlers ages two and up.
1. Prepping It’s important to start by teaching the first step: hand washing. After that, toddlers can help with tearing lettuce into pieces, taking peas out of the pod, shucking corn and picking herbs off stems. Seat your child comfortably, provide a bowl and be prepared to sweep afterwards (mess is always part of cooking, so don’t stress about it).
2. Measuring They may be too young to grasp the mathematical intricacies of half-teaspoons and quarter-cups, but they can certainly help scoop herbs and spices into small spoons, or add ingredients into measuring cups.
3. Pouring Once measured, those ingredients have places to go! Toddlers can learn to pour both wet and dry ingredients into soups, stews, salads and baked goods.
4. Sampling Part of cooking is tasting along the way. Let your children try the shredded cheddar before it’s added to the cheese sauce, or the raw green beans before they are steamed. This also serves as a teachable moment to explain that not all ingredients can be eaten raw. They should learn not to eat eggs, meat or poultry until they are fully cooked.
5. Mashing Making guacamole or banana bread? Toddlers can help mash soft foods like avocado, banana or cooked potatoes. It may help to seat them on the floor for this one, so the bowl doesn’t fly off the table. (I speak from experience!)
6. Crafting Food is like art class. Use a pastry brush to “paint” marinade onto salmon, or egg wash onto pastry. “Cut” with cookie cutters to make fun shapes like hearts in sandwich bread or stars in sliced cucumbers. Or “glue” dough together for wontons, spring rolls and dumplings.
7. Stirring Wooden spoons and metal bowls make the perfect toddler drum kit (we’ve all been there!), but they are also ideal unbreakable kitchen tools for teaching your child to gently fold, whisk or stir ingredients together—especially when baking.
8. Sprinkling Perhaps your artistic toddler can add the creative finishing touches. Let them “snow” some parmesan cheese on top of pizza or pasta, add nuts and seeds to a salad, or toss some fresh herbs onto fish or chicken.
9. Cleaning Spills are inevitable, and kids should feel confident even if things get messy. Have dish cloths and a broom handy for messy moments, and let your kids help sweep and wipe countertops.
10. Doing dishes Fill the sink with soapy water and a sponge, and suddenly your toddler will be a huge asset in the kitchen! They can help wipe down lightweight plates, bowls and cutlery (make sure there are no knives in the sink) while having fun in the bubbles. This is often the most fun activity of all!