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Cooking with Toddlers: Easy Tips and Tricks for a Fun and Safe Experience

Last week on a beautiful December morning we met at Stark Park for a tea party with our forest friends. Each explorer painted a sugar cookie shaped like a gingerbread house and had the opportunity to make their own "candy cane tea."

 

As nature play enthusiasts, it makes sense why we would be curious and willing to invite our toddlers into the kitchen with us. Cooking is such a big part of nature; how ingredients are grown and harvested and the way the animals we eat are cared for. These things all play a huge role in the natural landscape of Earth, the health of our soil and, in the big picture, climate change (a post for another day.)

 

While cooking is a basic life skill everyone should know, with the current price of food being astronomical, it’s certainly a privilege to be taught these skills at a young age. It’s nearly impossible to justify the added cost of sharing ingredients with our kids that will likely go to waste. Using the tips below, invite your kids into the kitchen without excessive added waste or expanding your budget.

 

These ideas have been compiled from our family’s own experience with toddlers in the kitchen as well as sources found online, which are linked below. Please keep in mind, every child is different; you know your kids best and they may be at a stage outside of the suggested guidelines for their age.

 

Age-appropriate kitchen tasks for kids ages 1-5

Ages 1-3 Kids may be beginning to develop fine motor skills and becoming curious about eating food (if they aren’t already). Invite them to stand with you at the counter as you cook. If possible, offer bites of whatever is cooking and if they’re ready, offer them a taste-safe bowl of food to play with (think a sensory bin but with food.) At this stage it’s about consistent exposure and nurturing the curiosity of food and cooking.

 

Ages 3-5 This stage is about practice and trust. Invite kids to gather ingredients with you. Create a grocery list together and shop, identifying foods as you go. Let them free play in the kitchen with tools and ingredients as you cook together; with practice, they will be able to help measure, mix, whisk, stir and even use a pastry brush. Trust them to use with a peeler, showing by example.


At a little over 3, I purchased this child knife for my daughter. While not suggested for this age-group, she became curious about wanting to help with this task and I wanted to honor that. With practice and patience, she’s been able to cut soft foods like avocado, cooked eggs and slightly firmer foods like cucumber and bell peppers. One very important tip to note is safety; please do not give a knife to a child under 3. They may lack the fine motor skills needed to hold the knife properly to prevent dropping it and/or lack impulse control.


Other Ideas + Resources

Gift a kids cooking subscription:


Use cookie cutters + decorate. Have kids cut out shapes for cookies and decorate or paint them when done. You can order kits like the one from our class last week (pictured above) or request a custom order from Le Sucre Bakeshop! Photo Courtesy of Le Sucre Bakeshop.


Make ornaments for birds and other creatures by making them edible and safe to eat.


Other Easy/Sensory Exploratory Tasks

Put toast in the toaster + top with favorite spread.

Crack and whisk eggs.

Roll out pizza dough.

Knead bread dough.

Browse cookbooks or magazines and ask what they think looks good to eat, make it together!


We should try to offer opportunities to invite our kids into the kitchen consistently, but the holidays in particular are a great time to invite our kids to help in the kitchen.

 

We asked our community how they do so, and this is what they said!

 

“Lots of Christmas cookies! My daughter loves to make her own sandwiches and help chop and measure for dinner. My son likes to taste test.”


“Cookie cutter pancakes are super easy; fruit crumbles are toddler friendly too.”


“My daughter loves to help with mixing when we are baking and cooking in the kitchen.”


In my opinion, the most important thing to do with kids in the kitchen is to offer them exposure to all food groups (when possible) and don’t give up when they won’t try something new! Keep offering it prepared the same way they rejected it and in new ways. Just like us, they have days when they're hungrier/pickier than others.



Want to see more food related classes for toddlers?

  • Sign us up!

  • Ehhh...we'll stick to playing in the dirt!



Check out the fun we had in class last week and visit our website to explore our upcoming experiences!



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