Imagine a sack of flour dumped over the kitchen floor. Or cabinets covered with slushie because someone forgot to put the lid on the blender. Maybe even a dish that caught on fire in the oven. All of these are things that have actually happened in either our kitchen or at our “spare daughter’s” house. Sadly, these things didn’t happen when the kids were toddlers and preschoolers. This happened when the girls were preteens and teenagers. And, yes, they were briefly banned from all kitchen duty at both houses even though we laugh about it now. When the kids were toddler and preschool age, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing recipes. The kids loved to help me with every task, sometimes taking me much more time, energy and mess to prepare the dishes. The rewards and memories are well worth the mess! If you are ready to start cooking with your kids, here are 5 Tips For Cooking with Toddlers and Preschoolers.
This is a partnered post with Mindware, but all opinions are my own.
Tips for Cooking with Toddlers & Preschoolers
1. Let Them Have a Drawer of Their Own. One of the best ways I’ve found to get kids interested in cooking is to start them early. While most of the drawers in my kitchen have childproof locks, I always leave one drawer or cabinet available with items they can pull out and use. (Think plastic bowls, saucepans, mixing spoons.) My son’s favorite activity as a toddler was to pull open the stove drawer and bang pots and pans together! Of course, the drawer is still functional for me too. One of Critter’s favorite activities is bringing me the salad bowl from “her” drawer. She loves to sit on the floor in the kitchen while I’m working “mixing” things in her own bowl. I provide her with an empty bowl and a spoon and she thinks she is helping!
2. Use Easy Recipes. It is not the time to get creative in the kitchen when young children help. Not only are their attention spans not long enough for time-consuming complicated recipes, there won’t be able to do many of the steps called for in the recipe. Plus, imagine the mess! Both you and your child will be frustrated which is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Begin with easy recipes like Ants on A Log (celery spread with peanut or nut butter and topped with raisins) or allow them to help stir pudding or “cut” bananas.
3. Plan for Messes. Kids are messy. They will spill things, drop things, and get stains on their clothes. I learned from experience when I cooked with kids in the classroom to not wear my best clothing. Someone was always ready to wipe their hands on my skirt or pants! Let the kids wear their old clothing for cooking lessons. You might want to consider an apron too. Have a wet towel on hand to wipe little hands. Keep the broom, dustpan, and paper towels at the ready. Also, explain what is acceptable in the kitchen. My daughter once read you could test to see if spaghetti was done by tossing it at the wall. This was NOT something I condoned! A little preparation before cooking can save a whole lot of cleanup later.
4. Schedule A Time For Cooking. Plan a time when your child is not tired, hungry or sleepy. You’ll also want to schedule a time when there will be no interruptions. I’ve left the kitchen for a couple of minutes to walk to the door to find my kids had gotten food on the wall! Keep the cooking lesson short enough for their attention span. And never, ever, ever plan around nap time! It will only end in frustration for both of you!
The Tasty Food Science kit, designed for ages 8+, combines fun recipes with scientific principles used in baking!
5. Give Them Their Own Cookware. One of my favorite ways to get kids involved in the kitchen is to allow them to have their own kid-sized cookware. We started our kids as toddlers with play food and utensils to use while watching me work. When they became preschoolers they graduated to their own cookware, like the Playful Chef sets from Mindware. These cute sets of real cooking utensils are specially designed for little hands, with soft-touch silicone utensils and bakeware, color-coded measuring spoons, easy recipes, and more. It’s the perfect way to introduce the basics of cooking to preschoolers. As the kids get older, graduate to more complicated baking sets like the Bakeology Tasty Food Science Kit. Great for homeschoolers, this kit allows children to conduct experiments with ingredients to adjust texture, height, and flavor of recipes and record the results in a lab book. They’ll learn about chemical reactions and more while creating tasty treats. We did a lot of experiments like this when my kids were growing up and now one of them is a Food Science major in college and always experimenting in my kitchen when he is home!
Not only does cooking with kids create fond memories, it helps them develop lifelong skills they’ll need in adulthood. What are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking!
What are your best tips for cooking with toddlers and preschoolers?