Laying a foundation for a healthy attitude to food starts long before children are old enough to independently prepare a simple meal. That confidence and know-how is far more likely to come later if you are willing to invest the time in teaching them when they are young and impressionable.
I think it’s important to encourage an interest in food and cooking right from toddlerhood, and my three have all cut their cooking teeth alongside me from as young as two. No, we don’t start handing out small appliances for them to use, but they begin by measuring and stirring to build confidence and encourage participation.
My two-year-old, Clara, has taken to lugging a chair from the dining room table into the kitchen and pushing it up to the counter whenever she sees me setting up to cook or bake. I spend a lot of time keeping busy in there and she’s noticed that it’s a fun (and tasty!) place to be, so it’s only natural for her to want to emulate my kitchen activity.
It’s important to remember that all children are different, however. Interest levels and attention spans vary vastly, and you’ll know just how much to attempt with your child. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about cooking alongside very small children, and I’m a lot more relaxed with Clara than I was when her older brothers were her age.
Today I’m going to share a few pointers for teaching toddlers in the kitchen:
Start them with a toy kitchen
For very little ones (9-24 months), start them with a toy kitchen and go through the motions of stirring, cutting, etc. If it holds their interest, you’re off to a good start.
Instead of managing a whole pack of siblings at the counter, plan to work with one child at a time and make the most of those teachable moments.
Pick a recipe with instant results
A child’s interest in food preparation is piqued when he or she can sample the end result quickly. Smoothies, fresh juices, salads, wraps and sandwiches are all good options for “fast food”. My kids love my easy Hemp cocoa bites, which are a healthy treat that come together in just a few minutes.
Prep ingredients ahead of time
If you are baking, or have a lengthy list of ingredients for a particular recipe, aim to measure them out and line them up before you invite your child to join you in the kitchen.
Let them sample along the way
Tasting is half the fun and offers many teachable moments. Have your child smell ingredients as well as touch and taste when applicable. It will introduce them to and help them become familiar with a whole new world of flavours.
Make sure your counter or table is uncluttered and there is nothing in your toddler’s reach that could injure them or disrupt the work. Also, keep a small stack of clean-up rags nearby for the inevitable spills.
Stand solid and safe
Set your toddler on a sturdy chair with a back and never leave their side. Seriously – never leave the child unattended for any reason.
Don’t be afraid to teach knife skills to a toddler
Yep, I said it and I stand by it.
Keep calm and carry on!
Keep bringing your toddler into the kitchen and, as they grow up, cooking from scratch will become second nature to them.
A final thought: plenty of praise is key for continuing on this kitchen tour. Heap on the encouragement and watch them beam with pride.