Like most toddlers, my son is eager to help — or as he so gently puts it, “Wyatt do it!”
Wyatt wants to take out the trash. Wyatt wants to mow the lawn. Wyatt wants to vacuum the rug. Wyatt also seems to want to talk about himself in third person.
This all sounds great on paper, but as awesome as this is, and as much as it annoys him to hear, he has to help in small bites.
So you can only imagine how excited I was to hear, “Wyatt do it!” as I was prepping the oven to bake some banana bread. To speak in kid terms, if this was a game, the kitchen floor would be lava. For the most part, I have kept Wyatt free of the kitchen, especially the oven, knives and the garbage disposal.
Thankfully up until now, he hasn’t been super interested in the kitchen. Now that he is, though, I don’t want to sear his curious nature. I also love the idea of us working together in the kitchen, mixing up our favorite things, and making memories together, which according to the experts, is what cooking with kids is all about.
What are the benefits of cooking with kids at home?
“Cooking with an adult is one of the best activities for kids!,” says Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN and founder & CEO of Kids Eat in Color. “They learn an important life skill, they can develop relationships with the person they are cooking with, they absorb their cultural practices and they can be exposed to more foods which can help with picky eating. Often, kids will interact more with foods if they are helping cook them than they would if they just saw the foods on their plate.”
While Wyatt may not be ready to sauté or flambé, he is ready to sprinkle a dash here or stir a smidgen there. “It’s possible to get babies in the kitchen — even if they are only sitting in the highchair with a whisk — even just observing you is beneficial,” said Anderson. “Toddlers can start helping as well. Many parents worry about the mess, and it is messy to have a toddler helping you bake. If you feel like you can handle messes and spills and have extra patience, let your toddler help! If you are exhausted and burnt out with a baby and toddler, there’s no reason to push yourself to cook with a toddler. You can cook with them when you are ready.”
How can cooking help with picky eating habits?
Beyond the bonding and baked goods cooking as a family can bring, cooking and baking can also be beneficial in addressing the child with the picky palate.
“Cooking with kids is one of the best ways to help your child if they are a picky eater,” said Anderson. “Kids aren’t expected to eat foods when they are preparing a meal, so it takes the pressure off of them. They can touch, smell or look at foods they normally wouldn’t eat. All of this exposure adds up and can help with them learning to try new foods. Additionally, kids will often eat a food they made, even if they wouldn’t eat if you made the same thing!”
When first starting out with your child in the kitchen, Anderson suggests piquing their interest with dishes that dazzle their taste buds.
“One of my son’s favorite foods is pancakes, so he learned to make pancakes,” said Anderson. “My other son asked to learn to make eggs, so he learned to make eggs. I think the key is to see what your child is interested in, and make sure you provide them with your presence and attention (for safety) and age-appropriate cooking tools.”
Other things to keep in mind while cooking with kids
Of course you want to bon appétit after spending time toiling in the kitchen, but when you are cooking with kids, prepare for the messy, the zany and the silly.
“Having fun is the most important thing,” said Anderson. “Your child probably will get tired of cooking before the food is ready and that’s okay. The next most important thing is to stay close and make sure your child is doing an activity safely.”
Also, don’t feel bad if you need your kitchen to be your safe space once in a while, shared Anderson.
“If you find cooking with your child is making everyone more stressed, it’s fine not to cook together for a while,” she said. “Parents go through times when they have the ability to cook with kids in the kitchen and times when they don’t. I took at least a year off of having the kids “help” me in the kitchen when they were little. We want it to be a positive experience, so if it’s more frustrating than fun, it’s time to take a break.”
While licking the spoon is still out of the question, fun is still on the table, especially when you incorporate some of our favorite child-friendly (with adult supervision) cooking tools recommended by Anderson and shoppers alike.
Kitchen toys and cooking tools for kids
This set is one of Anderson’s favorite kid-friendly (when used with adult supervision) tools. This set comes with three nylon knives (in sizes small, medium and large) that are sure to cut food, not fingers. Currently holding a strong 4.7-star average from over 3,000 verified Amazon shoppers, this set is suitable for kids age four and up.
Adults enjoy fancy food, so why shouldn’t kids? Fancify fruits and veggies with this stainless steel waffle cutter. Verified Amazon shoppers say this tool is great for small hands and is a great starter tool for your little chef.
Ezpz Happy Mat
Once your culinary triumph is complete, you have to plate it like a pro! With the top-rated ezpz mat, you don’t just serve your child’s meal — you serve it with aesthetics. This silicone mat suctions to the table to help with spills and mess. It’s also dishwasher-, microwave- and oven-safe up to 350° F.
Pottery Barn Kids Mini Cooking Set
If they’re begging to use the big kid pots and pans, get them their own set of realistic tools so they can safely cook alongside you. This boxed set comes with a soup pot, a saucepan, a wooden spoon for mixing, measuring spoons and an oven mitt. It also has three adorable felt veggies for them to play with while you do the actual cooking.
Cookbooks aren’t the only literature when it comes to a culinary education. Your kids will love reading the story of one little girl’s quest to prove that pizza is the best food in the world. Along the way she learns a few lessons about food, family and fun. As an extra special treat, this book also includes a pizza recipe for families to try at home.
If you want to be a chef, you’ve got to look the part. Inspired by the kid-friendly culinary competition series “MasterChef Junior,” this set has everything for your budding Michelin-starred cook.
One of my least favorite kitchen tasks is peeling, so I will happily hand this kitchen tool over to my toddler this holiday cooking season. With a glowing 4.8-star average (including over 28,000 five-star ratings from verified Amazon shoppers), OXO’s bestselling peeler features a soft, non-slip grip that’s perfect for small hands. Note: While reviewers note how this is a great beginner’s peeler for kids, you’ll want to watch them carefully since the blade is a little sharp.
KidKraft’s play kitchen combines craftsmanship with realistic play. This play kitchen features all of the major appliances: an oven with a see-through front, a refrigerator, freezer, microwave and a dishwasher. There’s even a chalkboard on the refrigerator so the little chef can take notes as they play.
Even Julia Child had to start somewhere. Help your wee one reach their culinary dreams, by being able to reach the kitchen counter with this foldable, easy to assemble kitchen helper. It adjusts to two different height settings, and features a non-slip mat and Kitchen Helper Keepers netting for added safety.
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