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.
I love having my kids in the kitchen when I’m cooking or to do separate cooking projects with them because I find that it helps them to explore foods without the pressure that sometimes creeps in at the table where they’re expected to taste new foods. 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 of course, 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!
Tip 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 that 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 here.
Tip 2. Take Your Time When Cooking with Toddlers
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! On most weekend mornings, I do a kitchen activity with my girls for morning snack. This gives us the chance to do something that we get to eat, there’s no where else we need to be, and it gives me something to keep them busy. Win, win!
Tip 3. Keep Messes in Perspective
Yes, cooking with little kids is often very messy. Yes, if you let them get near shredded cheese or sprinkles they will wind up all over the floor. That is what you have a vacuum for. 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 as a normal part of being in the kitchen together.
TIP: 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!). Find my favorites here.
Tip 4. Let Them Taste, Touch, and Explore
The best part (well one of them anyway!) of cooking with toddlers is that they may be more willing to explore and even taste foods when they’re away from the table. 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 okay if you give them a spoon and they want to use their hands. (Just start the process with a thorough hand washing!) It’s okay if they taste an ingredient (provided it’s not raw eggs of course). And it’s also okay if they want nothing to do with either of those things and just want to madly whisk! Each kiddo is unique.
Tip 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 might need it. 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!
And 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 that 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 a lot of ways to enjoy the process when you do!
Do you have questions or favorite ways to cook with your toddlers? I’d love to hear in the comments!