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How To Encourage Your Toddler In The Kitchen

7 min read | 02 September 2019

These days, I’m one of those parents who love hearing, “Can I help with the cooking, Mum?”

But it wasn’t always this way, and I still have to silence that part of me that groans that having them involved will delay me from my 1000 other parental tasks. And let’s not even talk about the mess!

But, as teens who were embraced in the kitchen from 2yrs of age, my children are now a genuine help to me in the kitchen whether as dutiful assistants or in complete charge of producing a meal for themselves or the whole family.

Teaching children the essential life skill of cooking, means they can take control of their health and be well throughout their life. The best part, cooking, is fun and they don’t even realise they are increasing their knowledge of nutrition, as well as improving their academic and life skills!

What are the benefits of cooking with your toddler?

1. Learning about food

Learning how to cook is an important life skill. Not only that, but cooking provides a great opportunity to teach our kids about nutrition – what’s healthy, why it’s healthy and why that’s good. In addition, it teaches safety habits (sharp objects, fire, gas etc.

2. Reading instructions

Reading recipes and flicking through recipe books encourages children to read and follow instructions (later, they will learn ‘improvisation’ and ‘multi-tasking’)

3. Developing math skills

The recipes also use maths concepts (measurement, fractions and proportions), which helps to improve their numerical skills by practical application

4. Parent-child bonding activity

It provides important bonding time which not only creates precious memories, but helps to build their confidence. It also presents opportunities to praise your child as they complete a task, contributing to their self-esteem

5. Exploring new foods

They are introduced to new foods, which they are more likely to try given they are preparing them

6. Improving motor skills

Fine motor skills are honed in the kitchen, as are their five senses: see, hear, smell, touch, taste.

7. Promoting creativity

Children have an opportunity to express their creativity – e.g. using cookie cutters to make different pizza or sandwich shapes, collaborating on a new healthy cake recipe and decorating it, deciding on the design and ingredients for a fruit kebab, choosing ingredients they like to include in their smoothie and so on…

8. Combating fussy eaters

Children are more likely to try new foods if they are exposed to varied types of foods when they help out in the kitchen. That’s not to say fussy eating in your toddler won’t occur, but it does help reduce it.

Children develop at different rates and so their kitchen abilities will vary. Use your own judgment when exploring the tasks you think are suitable for your child.

How can toddlers help in the kitchen?

Cooking activities for a 2-3-year-old

This age is more about familiarising toddlers with the kitchen environment. Be sure to make the area completely safe before getting them involved.

  • Washing fruit and vegetables:

    Set them up at the sink with a step ladder, fill the sink with water, and set them to task with washing with a strainer beside them. This is a great way to get them curious about an array of colourful fruit and vegetables which encourages them to try different foods

  • Measuring:

    Weighing out ingredients and have your children add them to a bowl and stir them. You can also get them to sprinkle flour onto a surface to make bread, or seeds onto some pastry.

  • Mashing:

    Get them to mash up food like cooked potato, sweet potato or banana with a potato masher. Just make sure the ingredients aren’t too hot

  • Simple cooking tasks:

    Think of easy jobs such as kneading dough, spinning salads, squeezing citrus fruits and assembling pizza toppings

Remember, they don’t have to do all these things on their own, you can help them with any, or all of the above steps.

Cooking activities for a 3-5 year old

By 3-5 years, motor skills and focus have improved, so now they can attempt more complex activities.

  • Measuring ingredients:

    More precise measuring with measuring cups and spoons

  • Cutting:

    Soft foods like butter, bananas, mushrooms, and cheese with a dull knife

  • Peeling:

    Good for hand-to-eye coordination, try with eggshells from hardboiled eggs

  • Assembling:

    Simple foods like a parfait or sandwiches to start with

  • Rolling, shaping and cutting dough:

    Use plastic cutters and a small rolling pin

  • Spreading

    : Buttering bread and spreading icing

  • Slightly more advanced cooking tasks:

    Now they have grown up a bit, get them picking leaves off herb stems and hulling strawberries, cracking and beating eggs and greasing pans

Here are some simple and deliciously healthy toddler recipe ideas to make with your little ones under five:
  • Orange juice

  • Homemade granola

  • Quiche

  • Smoothies

  • Bread

  • Dips like guacamole and hummus

  • Kale chips

  • Baked oatmeal

  • Salads

  • Bliss balls

  • Muffins

  • San Choy Bow

  • Pizza

  • Pasta

Why not choose a recipe with your little ones and let the kids into the kitchen? I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be!

Brenda Janschek is a health coach, nutrition and lifestyle blogger, recipe creator, a passionate advocate for women’s and children’s health and a busy mum of two! Through her writing, coaching, nutrition presentations, popular online programs and recipe eBooks, she helps busy mums develop and implement healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits that can be easily shared with their families and friends.

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