As your child grows from a baby into a toddler, it can become a little more challenging to keep them entertained. The reduced naps can also mean you have less time to crack on with the daily to-do list, however, encouraging your child to get involved in the kitchen is a great way to have them help you while also learning new skills. We can’t promise they’ll be that much help in the early days, and you might spend most of the time cleaning up the mess, but nonetheless, getting your toddler cooking with you is a lovely way to spend time together. Read our tips below on how to start.
1. Preparation is key
It’s a good idea to prepare all the ingredients and equipment in advance. Whether it’s weighing out flour, pre-heating the oven, finding the right measuring jug or setting out fairy cake decorations in little bowls, having everything ready to use keeps things running smoothly and without the stress.
2. Damage control
Expect things to get messy! The most important thing is for your child to have fun and hopefully learn something so don’t spend your time worrying their clothes getting dirty or the floor being covered in melted chocolate. Instead, prepare for the mess by putting your child in clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and lay down a floor mat or newspapers. You might want to keep a good supply of towels or wipes handy too!
3. Instant results
It’s no secret that toddlers aren’t the most patient of people so it’s a good idea to choose a recipe that can be eaten straightaway while they’re interested – think finger sandwiches, no-bake energy balls or smoothies. Try and avoid recipes that call for long cooking times, need to set or take a while to cool down.
4. A sensory experience
Encourage your child to smell, touch and taste throughout the process – it makes things more fun, gives you plenty of things to chat about and encourages your little one to be more adventurous with food – when they’ve engaged with all the ingredients, they’re more likely to want to eat the finished product.
5. Back to basics
Even if you’re a confident cook, start with simple recipes. Not only are little ones likely to engage with an uncomplicated recipe, it’ll help keep you calm, making the experience much more enjoyable for both of you. Try rocky road bars, mashed potato or fairy cakes.
6. Learning opportunities
It doesn’t matter how young your toddler is, you can still make cooking a learning experience. For example, even very young children can help you wash fruit and vegetables, giving you a chance to teach them new words. With older children, you can talk about where in the world the food came from or do some simple maths when weighing out the ingredients.
7. Take your time
Set aside plenty of time, even if the recipe is a quick one as you’ll find things can take twice as long when there’s a toddler involved! Choose a day and time when you won’t be in a rush to be anywhere or the rest of the family aren’t expecting a meal any time soon.
8. Give them freedom
It’s easy to step in and show your toddler the ‘right’ way to do things but try and let them take the reins where suitable. It’s also a nice idea to give them choices and let their creativity take over. For example, have a selection of cheese, vegetables and proteins laid out and let them choose what they want to top their pizza or fill their burrito with.
9. Age-appropriate tasks
Make sure the tasks your child takes on are suitable and safe for their age. Saying that, young children can be capable of more than you think. Show them how to prepare a pan by painting on some oil with a pastry brush, how to pick off leaves from a bunch of herbs or just how to stir oats and sugar together – they’ll likely want to have a go themselves.
10. Be in the mood
If you’ve planned a cooking activity with your toddler in advance and the time has come but you’re just not feeling it, don’t force yourself. The same is true for your child – if they’re tired or grumpy, or not all that interested, save it for another day. You’ll have a happier and more successful experience if you’re both in the mood.