Toddlers in the Kitchen-Tips for Cooking & Baking with Your Toddler
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If you’ve been around my blog or on my facebook page (Smiths on Spruce, give it a follow!), you know that sweet V and I cook or bake TOGETHER at least once a week. He also helps me prep dinners most days, and is a pro cleaner. While having your toddler(s) in the kitchen with you may seem messy, daunting, and time consuming (it is all three at times), it provides your little one(s) with so many valuable skills and learning experiences. Toddlers watch (listen and repeat) everything you do, and are constantly learning.
Allowing your toddler in the kitchen can teach them about safety, the process of cooking, following recipes, measurements, etc. Simply talking your toddler through what you are doing is an authentic experience for them. Allowing them to stir, pour, scoop, or participate in any way is a bonus and should be the goal you work towards, if you aren’t already doing that!
While I know all toddlers are different, I believe my list of tips will be helpful for parents searching for ways to let their big helpers “help” in the kitchen! Check them out below!
- Mentally prepare, literally prepare, and be sure you have adequate time
Cooking and baking with a toddler or children in general is not for the impatient or those who fear a big mess. There will most definitely be a mess, and it will most definitely take about three times longer to create something than it would if you did it yourself-but again, LEARNING, BONDING, BUILDING LIFE SKILLS. Prepare yourself for a mess, and make sure you have enough time and aren’t going to cut your little one short or rush them along. Prep your ingredients and materials before you invite your kiddo into the kitchen. This means, put everything you need including measuring cups, utensils, etc. wherever you are cooking so you are not running around your kitchen. Remember, toddlers lose interest in .5 seconds and can cause an absurd mess in less!
2. Walk your toddler through each step, and provide reasoning for actions
While toddlers enjoy observing, most want to get in on the fun. I have V stand on a kitchen chair at our bar/island so that he can see and participate. We’ve been looking into getting a kitchen helper, but I haven’t found the “one” yet. Until then, the chair works fine but of course he needs supervised, which is another reason I like to have all my ingredients and materials ready before we get started.
Once we get started, I walk him through everything-
“We wash the peaches before we cut them so they are clean for us to eat.”
“We need to stir, stir, stir so the ingredients are mixed well together and our muffins will taste delicious.”
“We spray the muffin tin so our muffins won’t stick.”
You get the idea! Not only does this teach your child, but it keeps them involved.
I am always sure to remind V of safety rules as we go, and stress why certain things are dangerous-
“Only mama touches the oven because it is hot and can hurt you.”
“See mama’s oven mitt? This is so mama doesn’t get burned when she takes our muffins out of the hot oven.”
3. Don’t be afraid to let your toddler help!
Often times when parents talk to me about cooking with their toddler, their fear is that he or she will mess it up or will not be safe. While being safe is definitely something that should be a top concern, messing up a recipe isn’t, in my opinion. Now, I wouldn’t recommend having your toddler help with the main dish at your fancy dinner party, but there are still things they can do to help during any type of meal.
I let V help with-
- Stirring; all of the stirring. Here’s the thing-cake batter, muffins, cookie dough, etc. sure. The only thing that can go wrong is spilling (or at least in my experience). I let him stir first and then I do to ensure everything is well mixed. If I’m stirring on the stove, I may hold him and let him stir a few times depending on his current temperament (i.e. if he has been a wild child all day, he isn’t going near the stove).
- Scooping; there are times when I have V scoop out ingredients using a measuring cup such as nuts and berries. Something messy like flour, is what we are currently working on.
- “Dumping;” remember how I said I don’t have him scoop or measure flour? Well, I let him dump it in the bowl. I will give him the measuring cup or spoon and allow him to dump it in, and then of course, the favorite-stir. He also “dumps” cut up veggies, fruits, etc. into recipes for me.
- Checking the creation; I let V look in the oven or on the stove with me (safely), and we talk about if it is done or not and what it should look and smell like when it is done.
- Decorating; this is more or less in the baking world, but I typically always let V decorate or put finishing touches on. Sprinkles, icing, confectioners sugar, cinnamon, etc. If you want a prized cake, perhaps, skip this part.
- Rolling dough, using cookie cutters, placing cookies on the sheet; this is self-explanatory. If your kiddo is a terrible dough roller, a horrendous cookie cutter outer, and puts all the cookies right next to each other on the baking sheet-smile, encourage, praise, and then fix it and tell why! “Wow! Great work! These are going to be yummy! Mama’s going to roll the dough a little thinner because these ones will take a really long time to cook.”
4. Teach your toddler that cleaning up is a part of cooking!
V loves cleaning up, and while I know that will change, I’m here for it now! I have V put dirty dishes in the sink and/or dishwasher, throw trash away, and help wipe the counters.
5. Be prepared with activities during wait times
While your creation is baking, cooking, boiling, etc. be sure to have an activity on hand for your toddler. This may just be cleaning up, but if your recipe takes longer than clean up time give your babe something to do!
You can kick it old school and let them have measuring cups, mixing bowls, pots and pans… you get the idea. We do that here too-V has his own cabinet!
If your kiddo is sick of the oldies but goodies, or you just want something new, check out some of V’s favorite “waiting” toys-
(Can be found at Amazon or Learning Resources)
We almost always have a salad with dinner, so V is interested in making his “own.” If I’m available to play sometimes we will sort or count, too!
(Can be found at Amazon or Learning Resources)
(Can be found at Amazon, Kohl’s, and others)
This Leap Frog Oven has some catchy tunes, teaches numbers, and is portable-which I love! V loves putting things in the oven like mama and taking them out when it dings.
(Can be found at Amazon, Target, and others)
Okay, honestly, this grill cracks me up. The voice in general is hysterical and then it sings about all of the meats and veggies. It does have a lot of settings to provide continued learning, as most Leap Frog products do. We also like that V can wheel it around himself, so we don’t actually have to keep it in the kitchen. It is a fun one!
6. Taste test and problem solve!
I’m pretty sure taste testing is everyone’s favorite part about cooking-enjoy your creation with your little one! Praise them on the good job they did and explain how awesome it is that they helped make what they are eating! If it is not very yummy, don’t pretend like it is-think aloud what could have went wrong, explain mistakes happen, and that it can be fixed next time! Or maybe a different recipe is just needed!
“I’m so proud of your hard work! You did so good with listening and stirring. I think next time we might need to take it out earlier. Can you remind mama to do that?”
“Wow! These muffins look amazing! You did a great job scooping and cleaning up today. I think next time we should add less salt!”
**Not to be confused with having manners! I, of course, wouldn’t teach V to tell other people how to fix their cooking mistakes (nervous laugh).
7. Have fun, provide all of the praise, and soak in this time with your babe!
Really though-be light and breezy, encourage and praise them, and enjoy!
Drop your favorite kiddo approved recipe below! We are always up for whipping up something new!
Until next time-