With the rise in childhood obesity, there is no better time than now to involve young children in the kitchen. Research shows that adults who know how to cook and eat home cooked meals are at lesser risk of obesity. You may look at cooking with toddlers as a messy activity. But cooking teaches our little ones many important life skills and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
In this article, I will cover safety tips, fun ideas, and recipes that can be easily made with your toddler at home.
Why Is Cooking With Toddlers Important?
- Sensory stimulation
Working with food provides the much needed sensory stimulus important for brain development. There is no real need to organize special sensory play when you can involve your toddler in the kitchen every day. Getting hands into the flour and mixing it into a dough, or cutting their favorite fruits and veggies provides many opportunities for sensory-based feedback. Different textures, different smells, and different temperature environments teach them about food at the ground level. There is no looking at the food on the plate from a distance, its actual involvement with the food they will eat.
- Life skills
Cooking is an essential life skill. Knowing to cook and cooking meals at home every day helps reduce the risk of obesity. The more home-cooked meals you eat the better your health will be. Whether you are a boy or a girl you need to know how to cook in order to survive and live a long and healthy life.
- Early math learning
Preschoolers can be taught counting using food ingredients. As they grow older, following a recipe teaches them addition, subtraction and measuring systems.
- Motor development
Using a knife, mixing with a spoon, rolling out dough balls all aid motor development. Cooking allows this practice of fine motor skills.
- Language development
As the child follows the recipe he is picking up new words and names of things. This helps with language development.
Cooking with toddlers also helps build social skills. The child needs to focus on your instructions, understand what you want him to do next, respond appropriately to the instructions. Such an activity spurs his imagination and leads to follow up questions. This type of learning through experience benefits the child greatly.
- Confidence building
Since cooking requires the toddlers focussed attention and work, once the task is completed the child feels a sense of pride in his own creation. I find such activities great confidence builders.
- Create an interest in food
Cooking creates an interest in food and encourages the toddler to eat more of what he makes. As a mother to a fussy eating toddler, you can use cooking as an activity to generate curiosity about food ingredients. The sense of achievement the child feels on making his own snack or meal encourages him to try different foods and eat more.
- Bonding with parent
It goes without saying cooking together is an easy way to spend one on one time with your toddler. As a solo parent, it’s easier to keep my child away from screens by involving him in dinner preparations with me. This daily activity has helped our bond grow stronger. Like in any partnership both of us know each others working style and have developed our own way of working together in harmony.
- Screen-free activity
As I mentioned in the point above, cooking together is a good option to keep kids away from screens. They are learning to focus and create something, much better than watching TV. Also sometimes involving the child in activities around the house with you is an alternative to keeping them under your watchful eye away from danger.
Cooking With Toddlers – Tips For Safety
Cooking can be used as an activity for toddlers as young as 18 months of age. A basic criterion that can help you decide if it’s the right time to start cooking with your toddler is when they can understand and follow simple instructions.
- Start with flameless cooking when cooking with toddlers. At this age, they can also be your sous chef in the kitchen helping you prepare certain ingredients for the main meal.
Examples of prep work the toddlers can help out with: Making pancake batter, making a cake/cookie batter, rolling dough for chapati’s or cookies, peeling garlic, peeling the skin off hard boiled eggs, cutting soft fruits and cheese, cleaning and sorting vegetables.
- Choose a safe cooking area away from flames, sharp knives or other sharp objects. I prefer to make a safe workstation just for my toddler, a designated spot for him to sit far away from the stove and knives.
- While it’s not essential to buy toddler sized knives, it does make things a little easier for the toddler. Butter knives work just as well. Other kitchen equipment like large stainless steel bowls, wood mixing bowls, or plastic bowls, spatulas and steel spoons are all toddler-friendly.
- Prepare for the mess. Cooking with toddlers is not going to be a clean job. Expect the mess and embrace it. Lay out newspaper sheets if you are worried about spills. I just go with the flow and clean the workstation once the cooking is done, its okay to let the kids make some messes. That’s how they learn to handle equipment better.
Ideas To Make Cooking And Eating Healthy A Fun Activity
Toddlers love being part of adult life, so it not that hard to make cooking together fun. To keep the activity interesting for long-term participation in the kitchen you can try these ideas;
- Host pajama cooking parties for the kid’s playdates or birthdays. Make the menu fun and interesting for the kids. Try making cake pops at home, or breakfast pancakes with toppings of their choice. A peer group activity like this teaches them to work with kids their age and builds social skills.
- Try new recipes with your toddler. This way they are learning about new foods, recipes and how to eat healthily. I always take the opportunity when cooking with my son to teach him about food groups, which foods are healthy or why we eat certain foods and how they make him a strong boy etc.
- Go for parent-child cooking classes. A cooking class is a fun family activity that also makes for family memories.
Recipes That Toddler Can Make Easily
Chocolate Energy balls
6 Medjool dates
1 tsp Cacao powder
2 tsp Desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon Coconut oil
Pinch of Salt
Blitz, all the ingredients in a high speed mixer and make round balls.
Stores well in the fridge for 5-7 days.
1/2 cup Rolled oats (roasted)
1-2 tablespoon Cashew butter
1 tablespoon Honey or Maple syrup
1 teaspoon Cacao powder
A handful of Cacao nibs
Handful of Raisins
Mix all the ingredients together and make balls. (If the balls are not coming together properly, give this mix a short blitz in the mixer and use the soft combined mixture to make balls easily)
Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to allow them to set.
Stores well in the fridge for 5-7 days.
1 cup Soymilk/almond milk/cashew milk/oat milk
1 large Mango
1 ripe Banana,
a handful of Spinach leaves
Blend well in a mixer. Pour in a cup and enjoy!
Peanut butter sandwiches or any simple sandwich that the toddler can help prepare and assemble. Eg, this yummy tomato and cucumber sandwich, made using a hummus spread few arugula leaves, tomato, cucumber, and hard-boiled egg slices.
I hope this post inspires you to get into the kitchen with the kids and make some memories. Let me know of your experiences cooking with toddlers in the comments below. What do you make with your kids?