I feel like half the pictures on my phone are of Owen in the kitchen. Since he was very young, I’ve always tried to involve him while I cooked or baked, whether that was baby wearing him as an infant, letting him try fun new foods that I was cooking with when he was starting solids, standing on a chair at the counter playing with spoons when he was finally steady on his feet, or, now, actively participating as a toddler. I feel like learning how to cook is such an important skill to teach, and I’m very passionate about starting kids young. I have many fond memories of helping my Nana, Gran, and Mum in the kitchen growing up.
While having a toddler help slows the process down a little bit, and it definitely creates more of a mess, its benefits outweigh the slight inconveniences involved. With a little bit of patience, I find it very enjoyable to watch my little guy develop his skills.
So, how do I involve him without an inch of flour covering my floor or a toddler with third degree burns? It’s all in how you approach the activity and build on existing skills.
- Clean Dishes. One of the first things Owen ever wanted to do in the kitchen was “wash dishes” in soapy water, like he sees me do almost daily. When I first slid a chair up to the sink for him, he was so little that he still had to stand on tip toes to rinse something under the faucet. Now, he’s a pro (and much bigger), and he can do almost everything, including turning the water on and off. Now, does he wash things perfectly clean? Of course not. But he enjoys helping wash the dishes (and occasional truck, Duplo, or rock). It’s amazing how fast they catch on to the wash, rinse, and put out to dry pattern. Another spinoff of this activity is washing fruit and veg in the sink. A few helpful tips:
- Put an old towel under the sink and around the part of the chair closest to the sink. We use one of our old ratty dog towels. It’ll be a little wet, and that’s okay. My floor and cabinets in that part of the kitchen are always a little bit cleaner than the rest of the room.
- Wash and put away breakables and knives before letting your kid start washing. At the very least, put them out of reach. They’re going to want to help wash anything they can get their hands on. This also goes for anything especially gross, like something that had raw egg or meat on it.
- Measuring and Dumping. This is currently one of his favorites. I help him measure out an ingredient by guiding his hand and measuring spoon, and he gets to dump it into the bowl. I just remind him to do things slowly and to get it all in the bowl (or wherever it needs to go). Soon, he’s not going to need my help loading up the measuring spoon.
- Putting Together a Dish. If I have a recipe that needs to be assembled before adding heat (such as a pizza, casserole, or a soup like my leak and potato soup), Owen is the guy for the job. With some dishes, he needs a bit of guidance evening things out, but, with other dishes, I just let him do it all. It depends on how precise the food needs to be assembled.
- Stir. Even before he could walk, Owen loved stirring. He would sit on the living room floor with an empty metal bowl and “stir” it with a wooden spoon. He’d occasionally turn it into a drum as well, but, mostly, he’d practice his stirring. So, once he was allowed to do it for real, he was really into it. When baking, he’ll often help stir together dry ingredients or help finish stirring something that I started while I get the pan ready to put it in. If he helped me put everything in a pot to make soup, he’ll stir it all together before we turn the burner on. And, recently, he really wanted to sautée something like I was, so I gave him a pan with a little bit of each ingredient, and I let him stir them around while I was doing the real dish next to him. No heat, but he got to actively participate by more or less doing exactly what I was doing. Just make sure they’re out of reach of any hot surfaces or pots/pans.
- Getting Ingredients. Ask them to help you find ingredients in the fridge or pantry, and have them help you carry them to the counter or table. This is a great way to help them learn their way around the kitchen and start identifying different foods. I always handle the raw meat and eggs, but I let him help with pretty much everything else. Toddlers love to help, and this is a great way to allow them to help you. It’s so cute to hear Owen say, “here doe” every time he puts something I asked for (and, occasionally, things I didn’t ask for but he thought they’d help) on the counter next to me.
- Talk About Everything. As we’re cooking or cleaning up, I make a point to explain what we’re doing. This includes counting, describing the color or texture of something, talking about if it’s yummy or not by itself (Owen has gotten really good at saying if something is only good if it’s cooked, such as eggs or flour), and we always talk about kitchen safety. This is a great way to help build their vocabulary, practice numbers, work on doing things in the correct order, and practice kitchen safety.
Cooking with my son is not only a great learning opportunity for him, but it’s also another fantastic way to bond with him. I always find kitchens to be comforting, love-filled spaces that act as the heart of the home, so I want my son to feel comfortable and welcomed in ours. Plus, he’s always so excited to eat something that he helped make. It’s so much fun watching his confidence in the kitchen grow.