Cooking and baking with a toddler CAN be fun (really!). The following tips can help set you up for success and make having your kids helping in the kitchen be a fun family activity.
Does the thought of including your toddler in your cooking and baking endeavors bring on waves of anxiety? I’ve been there. While it can seem overwhelming, baking and cooking with toddlers is doable and can be a lot of fun!
Having them be a part of the action from a young age is a great way to introduce them to new flavors, smells, and family traditions. Starting small with your toddler dumping ingredients into your bowl, or mixing dry ingredients together, includes them in a special part of your day-to-day family life.
Giving your toddler specific tasks (no matter how small) can also help them build confidence, and encourages them to try new things and participate. Just like Daniel Tiger says, “Everyone is big enough to do something.”
The following tips are things I’ve learned (and continue to remind myself of) ever since I began purposefully including my toddler in our family’s cooking and baking.
Your child’s safety is the number one priority when including them in your family’s cooking and baking.
Adult supervision is required at all times. Whether you’re the parent, the cool aunt, or just a visiting friend, having a toddler join you in the kitchen means you need to be on alert and nearby at all times.
Make sure your child is protected from dangerous objects or hot surfaces. This means moving knives, kitchen shears, graters, etc. that may be used in the recipe out of reach of your child. If you’re using the stove, make sure your toddler cannot reach the hot surface.
Demonstrate good kitchen hygiene. Wash hands together before getting started. Wipe down messes as they happen (as best you can). Talk about why you wash your hands after handling raw eggs. While they may not understand everything now, you’re planting the seed for them to use good hygiene when preparing food as they learn and grow.
Tips for Including Toddlers in the Kitchen
- Embrace the mess.
- Expect for there to be spills, ingredients to accidently fly out of the bowl. There will be flour on the counter, on the floor, on your kid… it’s ok! They’re learning, having fun, and their kitchen skills will get better the more they work with you. If it gets really messy, it’s a great segue into bath time.
- Have wet cloths/clean-up rags nearby for inevitable spills. Spills can and will happen, just wipe them up and keep on moving. I know it can be hard to not get frustrated when this happens, but just remember your toddler’s motor skills are still developing and they are learning a new skill.
- Set realistic expectations.
- It will likely take more time to make your recipe with the help of your toddler, and that’s ok. Give yourself (and your kiddo) grace as you go.
- Your final product may not look perfect, but will still taste good. Remember when Daniel Tiger’s birthday cake got smushed on the way home from Baker Aker’s shop? As Daniel said, “My tiger cake, it got smushy…but it still tastes yummy!” That perfect gingerbread family you envisioned may be more like cookie blobs with lots of extra sprinkles… it’s a nice memory, and still just as yummy to eat.
- Select an easy recipe.
- Especially for the first couple of times, choosing a recipe that is quick to do with instant results (like helping making their favorite smoothie) is a great choice.
- Picking a recipe with minimal ingredients can help minimize the time you need to prep, minimize the opportunity for messes, and also help you keep track of everything.
- Prep the ingredients ahead of time.
- At a minimum, have your ingredients set out before inviting your kiddo to join you in the kitchen.
- If you have the time, you can also pre-measure ingredients, chop ingredients, and complete harder tasks before your toddler joins you. This helps reduce the amount of time needed to make your recipe, making it more likely for them to stay engaged in the process.
- Bring your child up to the action, safely.
- Use a sturdy chair with a back or a toddler tower to bring your child up to counter-height. Be sure you are next to them at all times.
- Alternatively, have your kiddo sit in their highchair or a booster seat at the table and bring some of the recipe work to them.
- Give your kiddo tasks to be in charge of.
- Empower your toddler with specific responsibilities! They will feel proud when they accomplish it.
- Start with easy tasks. Some ideas to start your toddler with:
- Have them pour ingredients into the bowl. For example, measure out the flour and help them to place it into the mixing bowl.
- Mixing dry ingredients. Hand your kiddo a spoon or whisk, and let them mix, mix, mix! Pro tip: it’s harder for kiddos to fling ingredients out of a bowl when they have a whisk!
- Choose kid-friendly equipment.
- Use a large mixing bowl for extra room
- If you have room in your kitchen, get a set of plastic mixing bowls to avoid the possibility of dropping and breaking glass mixing bowls.
- Hand them smaller sized spoons, whisks, and rubber scrapers if you have them.
- Sample and smell ingredients along the way.
- This is a great way to introduce your child to new smells and flavors. We always offer to let our toddler smell the spices we are using.
- If chocolate chips are involved, just expect that a few will be nibbled on… it happens. The same goes for recipes with cheese (at least in our house).
- Help guide them away from items they should not eat (like raw eggs and raw flour). This is a great opportunity for a teachable moment. Explain why we don’t eat certain ingredients before they are cooked.
- Talk about what you’re doing as you go.
- Model good kitchen habits, and explain things like why you wash hands after touching raw eggs.
- Explain why you’re doing things like leveling the baking powder and properly measuring flour as you demonstrate.
- Cooking and baking is full of teachable moments… have fun with it!
- Praise and encouragement!
- Don’t forget to tell your toddler that they’re doing a good job! Did they get the whole cup of flour into the bowl? Hooray! Did they mix all the ingredients they were in charge of together well? Great job buddy! Just like anything new they’re learning, encourage them to keep up the good work.
- If it’s just not going well, it’s ok to try again another time.
- Sometimes cooking and baking with a toddler just doesn’t go very well… and that’s ok. Take a deep breath, clean up, and try again another day. Neither of you did anything wrong. It will go better next time.
A lot of people love using a toddler tower to help kids reach the action in a safe way. If you have room for this in your kitchen for this piece of equipment, many parents would say it’s worth trying out.
If you’re worried about dropping your vintage Pyrex (like mine!) or glass mixing bowls, a set of plastic mixing bowls can be a great investment for cooking with kids.
Small, silicone kitchen tools are also helpful for small hands!
Kids as young as 18 months old can start helping in the kitchen! Kids at this age are starting to use their senses, making it a great time to introduce them to new smells, textures, and tastes. Start small by giving your toddler easy tasks like helping add ingredients to the bowl and stirring. As they grow older and gain more experience, they can be given more responsibilities.
Baking with kids can help build their confidence, is a great way to spend time together, and can help introduce kids to a variety of ingredients they may not know or eat yet.
Fun Recipes to Make with Kids
Smoothies are a great place to start when inviting kids into the kitchen! They can help put ingredients into the blender, and turn the button to make it blend! So fun. So easy.
Pancakes and Waffles
Enjoy a slow weekend morning together as a family by mixing up a delicious pancake or waffle recipe! Inviting your toddler to mix ingredients together and to help pour ingredients into your mixing bowl is a great place to start.
Mixing, measuring, pouring ingredients, lining muffin tins… there are a lot of ways to include your toddler when you make muffins together!
Whether you’re making tonight’s dessert, something special to share with friends, or baking for the holidays, kids will be excited to help when they know cookies are on the way!
No Bake Treats
No bake treats are generally quick and easy to make. Kids can help mix, pour, shake, roll, decorate… let them try new tasks with these low-risk yet highly delicious treats!
Lunch and Dinner
Finding ways to have your child help with day-to-day meals is a great way to include them in a daily family activity! Can they help rinse ingredients? Stir things together? Place toppings and mix-ins into bowls and put them on the table? Get creative, have fun, and enjoy a yummy meal together.
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