Looking back on your childhood, you may remember helping roll out the cookie dough to make Christmas cookies, stir the pasta sauce, or wash the fruits and vegetables for dinner.
What you probably didn’t know at the time was that your parents were creating memories and helping you develop valuable and important life skills. Now that you are a parent, you may be continuing this tradition with your children.
Toddlers as young as 18 months can start helping with age-appropriate tasks, and the more time they spend with you in the kitchen, the more comfortable (and helpful) they will become! Is it messy? Yes. Does it often require extra time and added patience? Absolutely! But the benefits of cooking with your children far outweigh the added cleanup.
Welcoming your children into the kitchen can be beneficial in so many ways:
Boosts Learning & Development
Cooking involves so many rich, hands-on learning opportunities. Reading recipes, following directions, naming ingredients, and describing what you are doing in the kitchen are all amazing opportunities for language development and vocabulary growth. Cooking also includes a great deal of math skills. Measuring solids and liquids, counting, adding, and subtracting are all skills that can be practiced in almost every recipe!
Enhances Fine Motor Skills
Pouring, mixing, rolling, mashing, and cutting are all important experiences for strengthening little fingers and hands. Developing fine motor skills help build the foundation for your child to be successful in future skills like writing and self-care.
As with anything, fine motor skills improve with practice, so getting started early is important.
Another benefit of cooking with your child is simply the quality time it allows you to spend together. Rather than preparing meals solo while your children play independently, cooking together can help you stay connected. Establishing this routine during toddlerhood can help lay a foundation for spending quality time together as a family.
Encourages Adventurous Eating
Do you have a picky eater? Inviting your little one to assist in the food preparation process can make them more likely to taste new, healthy foods. While cooking, your child will be constantly exposed to new ingredients. They will see firsthand what is going into their food and maybe even taste test some of the ingredients during the process.
When a child contributes to the execution of a recipe from start to finish, they will feel a sense of confidence and pride. The more time spent in the kitchen, the more skills they will acquire and gain more independence. Developing autonomy (‘I can do it all by myself’) promotes confidence, heightens self-esteem, and fosters perseverance in children.
How to Get Started
So, we know that cooking with your kids can be fun and developmentally beneficial, but what is the best way to go about it?
Choose Age-Appropriate Tasks
Initially, keep the scope of your projects small. It’s unrealistic to expect your child to have the focus to complete a long and complicated recipe in the beginning. There are many jobs in the kitchen that are well suited for children ages 2+.
Washing produce in a colander, cutting fruits and vegetables (with child-safe knives), topping pizzas with tomato sauce and your favorite toppings, adding ingredients to a blender to make a smoothie, and cracking eggs (YES! Your child can master this skill) – just to name a few. Don’t forget about the cleanup – they can also assist with loading the dishwasher, sweeping, and wiping down the countertop.
Pick Appropriate Recipes
Choose recipes that will get your little one excited to dig into! Some healthy toddler favorites are smoothies, pita pizzas, hidden veggie muffins, fruit salad, cookies, pinwheel sandwiches, crockpot applesauce, hummus, popsicles, and egg muffins.
Do it Themselves
Sometimes it’s difficult as a parent to stand back and let your child take the lead. However, they’ll love the feeling of independence that comes from being able to do something on their own. Demonstrate, explain, and then stand by and offer assistance as needed. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your child learn to do something by themselves!
Tools for the Job
There are so many great options on the market, but we love the Micuna Little Helper Learning Platform to help bring your child safely up to counter height.
Child-Safe Knife Set:
This TOVLA Jr. nylon serrated knife set keeps little fingers safe while allowing precision cutting of veggies, fruits, cheese, and bread.
Chef Hat & Apron:
Why not look the part? There are so many adorable and functional options, but we can’t resist this Jr. Chef Coat and Hat from Crate and Barrell (you can even have it personalized with your mini-chef’s name).
Bottom line – it’s never too early to get your kids helping in the kitchen. Don’t let the mess scare you! The benefits are endless, and most importantly, it’s a fun bonding experience for the whole family. There is no right or wrong way to cook with your child, but there are so many opportunities to enjoy the process when you do invite them to join you. So, throw those aprons on, get in there and have fun!
*This article is not a paid or sponsored contribution