You might think that cooking (or baking) with your toddler is absolute madness, and to be honest it kind of is. You might not get the exact amount of flour you need in the recipe, you may get sticky fingers all over your kitchen, and your kid might even double-dip into whatever deliciousness you are making. (Yes, that has happened many times in our kitchen!) But cooking with your toddler is completely worth it! You just kind of have to set aside your expectations of the typical experience and enjoy what happens while you create.
Some of my favorite times with my little ones involve making something together in the kitchen. We’ve tried a lot of various recipes. Most of them turn out great, and I’ve only lost my cool a few times. I love cooking with kids because it is a natural way to work on so many skills, especially counting (check out my article about teaching your toddler how to count here) and new vocabulary.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. Please see my disclosure for more details.
Benefits of Cooking with Your Toddler
Cooking with your toddler and/or older children comes with a wide range of benefits. There is significant research that underlines the importance of involving your kids in food prep.
- Cooking with your kids can help with their weight control and prevent obesity. The World Health Organization has a detailed report that talks in-depth about childhood obesity and how to end or decrease it. One of their recommendations is including children in meal prep and talking about nutrition from an early age. Check out the report here.
- Another study suggests that more homecooked meals could be realted to living longer. Check out the study here.
- Cooking and baking is also an important life skill that will benefit your child throughout life.
- Along with any new skill comes new vocabulary your child can learn. Cooking together is a great way to build language. (If you are looking for more ways to work on language, check out my article here with all my best tips.
- Cooking and baking together can be a way to work on fine motor skills like scooping, measuring, and stirring.
- You can naturally work on skills like counting (check out my article here about how to teach your child to count).
- Cooking and baking together can help strengthen the bond you have with your child by spending quality time together.
Despite all of these great reasons for cooking with your toddler, there seems to be a decrease in families making meals together. So go against the flow, and be the family that creates in the kitchen together!
The Gear You Need
When it comes to cooking with toddlers or kids there might be some special gear you are going to want to have in order to make things more safe and more fun.
- Mini chef gear: Someone got us this set of chef gear for my little girl and to this day it’s one of my favorite gifts she has ever received. This chef gear only comes in pink, but this gear comes in orange and includes measuring cups and spoons.
2. Your own apron: I used to think aprons were kind of unnecessary and even a little silly. But then I started sharing my kitchen with a toddler, so they became rather helpful! My little one also just thinks it’s really fun that we both have aprons on. These aprons are standard and gender neutral, while these are actually MATCHING mother/daughter aprons!
4. A place for your helper to stand: When you are cooking with your toddler, chances are that they don’t have the ability to reach the counter yet, so you can get these super well-rated kitchen helper chairs. They are better than a standard chair because they make it more difficult for kids to fall and get hurt. They also have nonslip legs to keep your little one safe.
5. Kids cookbook: Have you heard of America’s Test Kitchen? I love this place because they treat cooking and baking like the science experiment it is. Illustrations and kid-friendly recipes are all over this cookbook. You also don’t HAVE to have a cookbook just for kids. Honestly, with enough patience and practice (and safety measures) kids can make anything.
How to Keep Things Safe
- Wash your hands and your little one’s hands before you start making food.
- Keep your workspace away from the oven/stove so your little one doesn’t get a burn.
- Be sure to have a safe place for your child to stand. Either try out the spiffy helper chair I mentioned above, or keep an eye on your child while they use a kitchen chair.
- Keep sharp objects like knives and apple slicers in a safe drawer that kids can’t get to.
- Have a fire alarm that is working and check it periodically.
- Talk to your child about what the oven and stove are and make sure they understand the serious consequences that will happen if they touch one of these things.
How to Involve Your Toddler
I’ve tried many strategies for cooking with my little one, and there are a few things that seem to work for us. However, when my dad is cooking with my toddler, he has a completely different set of “rules” (basically there are no rules). So you have to figure out what works for you. Below is a quick list of things that I do to help my toddler really feel involved.
- I got her a chair she can use on her own. Or you can use the cool kitchen helper chair I mentioned above.
- We wash our hands
- If I’m using a recipe, I show it to her so she can investigate it with me. If there is a picture, we look at that together too.
- I read off the ingredients, and we get them out together.
- If there is measuring, I usually do the filling of the cup or spoon, and I let her dump it. As she gets older, I’ll let her try measuring it out on her own.
- I try to have two spoons out: one for her and one for me. I know that she will want to have a spoon in hand almost the whole time, so I let her have one all to herself. This is also ideal because her stirring doesn’t always do the job.
Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativityGuy Fiery
What to Make
Now that we have all the prep work down, what should you actually make? Well, it’s completely up to you, but here are some ideas I know you will love! Some are really simple and meant for the beginner, while some will take more effort. And I have paired a great book with some of the ideas so you and your little one can read before or after the creating.
Making sandwiches or toast into fun shapes
My aunt used to make THE COOLEST PB&J sculptures when I was growing up. (Okay, I’m sure “sculpture” is a little over the top, but to my little eyes, I really did think they were the coolest.) The two I liked the best were her butterflies and sailboats. All she did was cut the sandwich into triangles and rearrange them appropriately, but man it was the best!
These days people use cookie cutters to get the job done, too. Or you can add other elements, like blueberry noses or banana eyes to make a whole host of various animals. The possibilities are endless!
A book about Sandwiches: The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Making popcorn from the kernel
These days everyone just makes their popcorn in the microwave. And I get it, that is much easier to do. But do you remember the magic of watching popcorn actually pop? It’s so stinkin’ cool! Let your child experience the magic that is popping popcorn.
Obviously, with this one, there will be hot oil and such, so make sure they are a safe distance away, or if you are really feeling it, buy one of these popcorn poppers so you and your kiddo can watch it while being safe.
Checking out whole fruits and veggies
One of the keys to getting all the benefits from cooking and baking with your child is introducing them to healthy foods. As simple as it sounds, let them explore fruits and veggies with you. You could buy a variety of the same food (like 4 different colors of peppers, or various sizes/colors of apples) and then talk about how they are the same and different. Let your child try cutting them with their awesome kid-safe knives. Do a taste test and show them different ways you can eat the food of choice. (Like putting apples with peanut butter, or making it into applesauce.)
You could also do an exploration of fruits and veggies that are all the same color. Have a purple day, and check out grapes, eggplants, and purple leaf lettuce. Have your little one touch each one, try a taste of all of them, and then prepare them in a fun way.
By exposing them to fruits and vegetables from an early age and making them a regular part of your diet, kids will grow more comfortable with eating a healthy variety of foods. And be sure to have kids try new foods several times because they might end up liking them. My pediatrician recommends at least 10-15 tries before deciding your child really doesn’t like a certain food.
Fruits and Veggies Book: Play with Your Plate by Judith Rossell
Creating a new flavor of milk
Trying different flavors of milk is another simple, but fun way to get your child involved in the kitchen. You can make banana milk, chocolate milk, vanilla milk, or strawberry milk with just a few simple steps. Check out the Yummy Toddler Food for more specific recipes to add some fun to your toddler’s milk.
Oh my goodness, have you ever made homemade playdough? It’s so much fun and your child will absolutely love it! We made a lot of playdough growing up, and I always thought it was the absolute coolest. My favorite type is the Kool-aid version. It’s fun because it has unique colors and it smells good, too! Check out this Kool-aid playdough recipe from “The Best Ideas for Kids”.
Your child will love that you get to make your own playdough and then play with it!
Play-Doh Book: Play-Doh: My First One Hundred Words by Robyn Natelson
Every morning my little one eats a big breakfast. Part of the menu is ALWAYS yogurt, blueberries, and granola that we make together. Have you ever made your own granola? It’s so yummy and it’s a good activity to make together with your kids because it includes lots of dumping and stirring. It’s also not at all exacting, so if they spill a little more oats into the mix than the recipe reads, it’s no big deal.
Making the granola doesn’t take very long, and you can really make it your own. Add in whatever spices you like best. (We especially love cinnamon and nutmeg together.) I use this simple recipe for our granola, and it really is great.
Fruit pizza is a yummy little snack that is colorful, healthy, and easy to make. That’s a winning combination if you ask me. Just grab a tortilla and use some yogurt to frost the top of one whole side. (You can add a bit of honey to it if you’d like.) Then just cut up some favorite fruits with your toddler and put them on the tortilla. You can arrange them in the shape of a cute animal or just throw them on randomly. It’s up to you and your little one!
Fruit Pizza Book and Activity: The Very Hungry Caterpillar and this fun activity from A Little Pinch of Perfect
Simple pre-made mixes
Grab a cake mix, muffin mix, cookie mix, or whatever it is you fancy, and let your child help you put it together. The great thing about this option is that it only involves a few ingredients, and it is pretty quick. Also, they are usually delicious!
Muffin Book: If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff
Preparing a standard baking dish
Making a real baked dish from a recipe is always a gamble with small children because there’s definitely a chance it doesn’t work out at all. But I have tried it a few times, and it has the potential to be great fun. (I won’t go into detail about the times it has completely gone awry, but that has definitely happened too!)
As long as you are in the right frame of mind (knowing that some things will get dropped, measurements might be off, and sticky fingers will be all over), it can be great. Your child will love that they get to help. We have made cookies, banana bread, and other baked goods.
Baking Book: Stir, Crack, Bake, Mix by Maddie Frost
As I said, it’s fun to bake with your child, but you have to prepare yourself for the chaos. As long as you know it’s not going to be perfect, and that you will have to do extra clean-up later, it’s fine!
And your toddler will love it. With any luck, they will look back on their childhood with fond memories of working in the kitchen just like how I fondly remember baking with my grandma. We would make delicious, homemade cinnamon rolls that were delightful. I think my grandma is one of the main reasons why I started baking with my kids so early on. And I’m so glad I did!
What recipe are you going to try first?