Having the kids in the kitchen can be fun, productive, and delicious, but how exactly does cooking with toddlers work? Learn how to channel their “I do it myself!” spirit into fun cooking activities and basic kitchen skills.
Cooking with Toddlers
Most people I know fall into one of two camps: They either find the idea of cooking with their toddler ridiculously fun and enjoyable, OR they think it’s horrifying and a total mess waiting to happen.
I get both of those perspectives (really, I do!) and think that it’s possible to cook with your little kids in ways that are fun for both of you and that keep messes somewhat contained. The reality is that sometimes the kids will be with us in the kitchen and they will want to be involved. This can help with that—and also the times you intentionally seek out a cooking activity to do together.
I love having my kids in the kitchen when I’m cooking or to do specific cooking projects with them because I find it helps them to explore foods without the pressure that sometimes creeps in at the table where they’re expected to taste new foods. (A kids cooking set is helpful here!) It gives them ownership over activities that often seem like they’re only for adults. And it shows them how capable they are completing tasks.
Now, I’m not here to tell you how to have your 2-year-old bake a cake on their own, but I am going to share my best tips to cook with your toddler in a way that’s fun for them and for you. I hope it gives you ideas for simple kitchen activities that are appropriate for their age … along with some tips to stay sane next to your tiny bundle of energy!
1. Narrow the Scope
When cooking with toddlers, especially when you just start out, keep the scope of your project small. Work with their attention span and know they probably won’t have the focus to stay with you through a whole long recipe.
But help cut up one pepper or peel a carrot? Done! Here are some good activities to start with:
- Washing produce in a colander
- Peeling a carrot
- Chopping a pepper or cucumber
- Mashing beans with a potato masher
- Washing a bowl with a sponge
- Slicing an egg with an egg slicer
- Sprinkling cheese on a tortilla to make quesadillas
- Spreading pizza sauce over pizza dough
- Adding ingredients to a blender to make a smoothie
- Helping to stir pancake batter
TIP: Find my favorite toddler activities to do in the kitchen for more ideas.
2. Take Your Time
You’ll want to cook with your toddler when you have enough time to devote to the activity without needing to rush them through it. If you have an appointment in 20 minutes, then save that kitchen activity for later!
The kids may get really into it and want to keep going and you want to be able to let them—or at least having a buffer of time will make it less stressful for everyone. On most weekend mornings, I do a kitchen activity with my girls for morning snack. This gives us the chance to do something we get to eat, there’s nowhere we need to be, and it’s something to keep them busy. Win, win!
3. Keep Messes in Perspective
Yes, cooking with little kids is often very messy. Yes, if you let kids near shredded cheese or sprinkles they will wind up all over the floor. There may be spills. That is why you have a vacuum and/or a broom.
I’d do your best to relax about the mess and consider the cleaning-up part of the activity something that can be fun, too. Put on some music, let the kids help sweep or scrub, and model how cleaning up after ourselves is a normal part of being in the kitchen together.
Also, having the kids safely up at counter height in a learning tower can be really helpful, both for their comfort and for keeping the mess a little more in check. (Sometimes, anyway!).
4. Let Them Taste, Touch, and Explore
The best part (well one of them!) of cooking with toddlers is that they may be more willing to explore and even taste foods when they’re away from the table and engaged on their own terms. Many kids find this to be a less pressure-filled situation and may taste or nibble on veggies or fruits that they otherwise wouldn’t.
And it’s a great opportunity for them to feel new textures and to explore what foods feel like. So let them have at it! It’s OK if you give them a spoon and they want to use their hands. (Just start the process with a thorough hand washing!)
It’s OK if they taste an ingredient (provided it’s not raw eggs, of course). And it’s also OK if they want nothing to do with either of those things and just want to madly whisk. Each kiddo is unique.
5. Give them the Chance to Do It Themselves
I love to watch my kids learn to do something by themselves, as I stand by and watch and offer assistance as they need it. I have basic kids cooking tools to help with this too. This gives them freedom within boundaries and keeps them safe and able to explore. It also can help them to stay on task since you’re there to guide them along, but trust me: They’ll love the independence of being able to do something all on their own!
Remember to talk about what you did together so you can get a sense of which parts they loved and would like to do again and which parts they’d rather skip. (You might learn they love spreading icing and putting on sprinkles, but they don’t love touching the dough, for example.)
You can do favorite activities regularly, especially if they fit into a daily routine and everyone enjoys them, or pull them out on special occasions or weekends. There’s no one right way to cook with the kids, but there are a lot of ways to enjoy the process when you do!
Easy Recipes to Cook with Toddlers
Below are some of our very favorite fun recipes to make together, either doing the entire recipe or just part of it.
Oatmeal Cookies with Apples and Carrots
Let the kids help grate the carrots and apples or stir the batter together. Or they can be in charge of drizzling on the icing.
Easy Sugar Cookies
With just a few simple ingredients and a super simple process, you can make my healthy and easy Sugar Cookies. They have the classic flavor, and the dough is so easy to work with. And they’re so super fun to make with the kids!
Easy Salt Dough
Learn how to make classic salt dough with the kids, with baking, painting, and storage info. This method is straightforward, easy, and thorough—and they are a perfect kids holiday gift to make together.
Let the kids help measure ingredients and stir them together in the bowl. You can also use an ice cream scoop to portion out batter onto a pan or griddle.
This easy one-bowl recipe has an easy method so the kids can help dump everything into a big bowl and stir it together.
The kids can help make the batter or top each cup of batter with diced fruit. They could even dice the fruit!
You can work together to make hummus in the food processor or you can mash everything well with a potato masher—which are sturdy enough for toddler hands.
The kids can spread on the sauce and sprinkle on the cheese to make their own little flatbread pizza.
The kids can help assemble their own quesadillas and you can cook them up. They can also slice up some fruit while they wait for the quesadillas to warm through.
Spinach Grilled Cheese
You can work together to put the ingredients for this grilled cheese into the food processor and then the kids can use a butter knife to spread it onto the bread.
Chocolate Avocado Pudding
You can cut the avocado in half and let the kids scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Then add it to the blender with the rest of the ingredients.
The kids can add everything to the blender for this easy popsicle recipe and then help fill up the molds to freeze.
Product We Love
Food Play Cookbook
Pick up a copy of my cookbook for preschoolers with easy, no-cook recipes. With photos for each step!
Best Tips for Success
- Set up the kids for success with a learning tower to bring them safely up to counter height, or have them sit in their high chair or booster seat.
- Invest in a set of kids cooking tools made specifically for little hands. An apron may help, too!
- Do just one step of a recipe if that’s all you have the bandwidth for.
- Try to set aside more time than you expect you’ll need to ensure you don’t have to rush.
- Expect a mess and plan to sweep or vacuum after.
- Enjoy the process and let the kids explore food in this fun way.
Do you have questions or favorite ways to cook with your toddlers? I’d love to hear in the comments!
This post was first published October 2019.