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Cooking with Toddlers: 5 Easy Tasks for Tots

Cooking with toddlers is more than just a fun activity for your child and a mess for you to clean up afterwards. Check out 5 ways you can get your toddler cooking today.

Cooking is a life skill. Getting kids started in the kitchen early is important for toddler development.

Kids learn through hands-on experiences, so what better way to teach your child about healthy food than exposing him to the sight, smell and feel of a variety of food through activities in the kitchen? Studies show that exposing toddlers to fruits and vegetables with food preparation increased children’s acceptance of these foods.

Age-appropriate tasks help kids develop autonomy, self-esteem, and teach them about food and nutrition. Kids are learning how to care for themselves when they learn how to prepare food.

Toddlers love to help!

Even though there’s only a few tasks your child can safely help with, starting early teaches kids the skills to be helpful when they’re a little older.

Learn safe, age-appropriate kitchen activities so your child can be a part of cooking meals for the family.

Cooking with toddlers is an adventure! Here's a toddler boy in the kitchen with a scoop and grains.

Age-Appropriate Tasks for Toddlers

Cooking with your toddler is a great way to keep him busy when you’re trying to get a meal on the table.

That’s not the only benefit.

Kids tend to complain less about foods they helped prepare. A child takes pride in what he helped make. A bonus – he’s more likely to try new foods.

Kitchen activities help develop fine motor skills and cognitive skills. Even easy dishes require some math, science, and creativity. Cooking encourages autonomy and knowledge about food and nutrition.

Here are 5 simple tasks for your toddler to get started.

1.   Add Ingredients

Filling measuring cups and spoons with ingredients teaches math. It also requires some dexterity. If your child’s fine motor skills aren’t ready for this task, you can fill the utensils for him and then he can pour it in. Or have him hold the measuring cup and you fill it.

Making a casserole, pizza or enchiladas? Have your child sprinkle the cheese on top.

Kids love to crack eggs. The trick is to have your child crack the egg into a separate bowl so you can pull out any shells. And a separate bowl for the eggs creates another task – now he can pour the eggs into the mixing bowl.

2.   Prep Ingredients

Some kids love to get their hands dirty. Some don’t like the feeling of different textures at all. If your toddler likes to roll up his sleeves and dig in, then this is the task for him.

Let him wash fruits and vegetables such as scrubbing carrots and potatoes. He can tear lettuce leaves and peel easy to peel fruits like bananas.

He can also shape foods that require rolling such as meatballs.

Do you bake bread? Allow your child to take a turn kneading the dough.

3.   Mix

Kids love to mix ingredients! Tip – use a larger bowl than you would think you need. It helps keep the ingredients inside as he mixes.

Older toddlers can hold an electric mixer with your help.

Toddler working with dough as she learns about cooking.

4.   Gather Ingredients

Develop your child’s communication and learn the names of food by having him gather the ingredients.

Ask him to hand you ingredients as you’re cooking. If your child can easily reach the ingredients, you can let him collect everything before you cook.

If you’re using a cookbook, he can even turn the page for you.

5.   Clean Up

This is a simple task for a very young child.

Let him wipe down the counter before you cook. He probably knows he’s supposed to wash his hands before he eats. Now that they’re helping in the kitchen, teach kids why it’s important the prep area is clean.

If you run out of age-appropriate tasks and he still wants to help, have him sweep the kitchen.

Cleaning up after meals encourages responsibility.

Tips:

Sometimes you need to get a meal on the table fast and you don’t have time to let your toddler help.

That’s okay.

Try to think long term. Your child is learning important skills and over time it will be worth it.

Here are some tips.

Be Patient

You’re creating memories and teaching your child important life skills. Yes, it can be messy and little helpers slow you down.

Pick a time when you can cook at your child’s pace. Slow down and enjoy the company in the kitchen.

Keep him engaged by cooking foods he likes to eat. The meals don’t have to be fancy. Most kids prefer simpler meals.

Prep In Advance

Make cooking fun! Choose recipes with plenty of tasks your child can easily do.

Chop the food in advance if the recipe calls for a lot of chopping.

Developmentally-appropriate tasks are not only safer, they’re more fun for your young child! He might lose interest if he can’t help you with anything.

Age-Appropriate Nutrition

Cooking meals together is a great way to encourage children to learn about food and nutrition. Give age-appropriate information and don’t characterize food as “good” or “bad”.

Your toddler can practice learning colors with fruits and vegetables. Let your child smell and touch the food. Identify all the ingredients so he gets to know the names of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Older toddlers are ready to learn about the 5 food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy). Explain the food groups and have him pick which group the food belongs in.

The Takeaway

Kids are more willing to try foods they helped prepare. But it’s not only about what your child eats today. Cooking with kids is one of the best ways to create healthy habits for life.

Part of raising a healthy eater is teaching your child the skills to take care of himself, choose healthy foods and hopefully enjoy eating when he’s older.

Need More Help?

Check out our library of classes, mini-trainings and books to help you be better at nourishing your child, inside and out.

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