Letting kids assist in the kitchen—especially when they’re little—can be a wonderful way to spark your toddlers' love of food and cooking. A child who gets to mix, sprinkle, pour and sample her way through a recipe is more likely to be excited to dig into the food when it’s ready. These activities also give young children a chance to fine-tune motor skills and begin to have a bit more responsibility. So the next time your littlest sous chef asks, “Can I help?” while you’re cooking, assign him one of these simple, safe jobs.
Prepping With Your Little Ones
- Picking herbs off their stems. Making a pasta sauce or a marinade? Give sprigs of herbs to your toddler and ask her to pull off the leaves. This herb-stripping tool makes the job even more fun. The leaves can then go in a small container for safekeeping.
- Shucking corn. Head outside and set up your toddler with a paper grocery bag or an open trash. Toddlers can help peel off husks or, if they don’t quite have the strength for that task, let them pull off the corn silks. (Outdoors, no need to worry about the mess.)
- Working with fruit. Toddlers can pitch in on fruit prep with these fun tools and a bit of assistance from a grown-up. Cherry pie on the dessert menu? Let littles help load up the cherry pitter and press down to push out the pits (make sure fingers are well clear first). Kids can serve up soft mango with the scoop side of this mango slicer and scoop. And though youngsters will likely need help positioning and holding a strawberry huller, they’ll enjoy easing out the cores from fresh strawberries or tomatoes.
- Using a salad spinner. When I was little, my mom’s salad spinner ranked high among my favorite toys. Revving it up, watching it spin, making it stop suddenly…and getting to do it all again? Joy, pure and simple. My youngest daughter feels the same way now. Fun fact about this salad spinner: The pump-activated design was inspired by a retro kids’ toy.
- Tearing up lettuce for salads. Give your children a salad bowl and let them tear up greens into bite-sized pieces. Watch their delight when they realize ripping up things is the goal.
- Washing produce. Move a secure footstool or chair in front of the sink, so your toddler can help wash and scrub dirt from fruits and vegetables: cucumbers, mangoes, potatoes, squash, anything that won’t bruise too easily if dropped. Fill the sink slightly with cool water instead of leaving the tap running, to prevent too-hot temperature dangers or faucets blasting at full strength.
- Helping set the table. Give kids specific tasks, like folding or putting out napkins, laying down place mats or setting out non-sharp utensils like butter knives and spoons. This activity also lets preschoolers practice sorting like objects together.
Cooking With Toddlers
- Pouring and adding ingredients. Your toddler will love to add cups or spoonfuls and pour liquids into cooking pots and mixing bowls, or dump ingredients into blenders if you’re making a fruit smoothie.
- Stirring and whisking. With a smaller-size spoon or a silicone whisk, your child can help when you’re mixing up batters—like for these kid-friendly banana muffins—by beating eggs or stirring sauces. If you have more than one young helper, assign each a certain number of stirs.
- Mashing. One easy way to start cooking with preschoolers is to let them use a food masher or even their (clean) hands to mash up foods like bananas, potatoes or avocados.
- Sprinkling ingredients. Let youngsters sprinkle cheese, herbs, seeds or nuts and add a “pinch” of salt or pepper to salads, pastas and more.
- Kneading and rolling out dough. A kid-sized rolling pin is handy here; it’s lighter and easier for small hands to manage. In a pinch, a small can works, too.
- Cutting cookies or sandwich bread into shapes. When cooking lunch with your preschooler, sandwiches cut into cute shapes add a side of fun. Layer toppings onto soft bread first, then cut with a cookie cutter. (Toddlers may need help pressing all the way down.)
- Cutting soft foods with a non-sharp knife. Littles can practice slicing safely (and work on their fine motor skills) with a butter or other kid-safe knife and foods such as avocados, bananas, ripe mango, peaches and watermelon.
- Brushing butter or oil onto dough. For a fun, creative cooking activity for toddlers, hand over a silicone pastry brush and let your little Michelangelo go to work on bread dough or pie crusts.
- Tasting. Taste testing is a delicious chance to teach kids about different flavors and how they affect a dish. Your toddlers may even surprise you by trying things they’ve turned their nose up at before.
Cleaning Tasks for Kids
- Helping wipe off countertops. This is an easy way for kids to help tidy up in the kitchen, and a damp sponge is the only tool required.
- Folding clean dish towels. A simple, mess-free task like this is a great way to exercise a young child’s motor skills.
- Sweeping. Toddlers can pitch in with their own child-sized brooms, or a brush and dustpan.
- Loading the dishwasher. Let young children assist with rinsing off non-breakable dishes and putting silverware (skip the sharp knives) in dishwasher baskets.
Check out these easy tips for cooking with kids for fun recipes to make with children of all ages.