I am wondering if you've ever asked this question as well as the others that come with that question? Are they old enough? Will they be able to handle it? What about safety? Do I have enough time to include them?
When we were raising our daughters (many moons ago!) we always included them in the household tasks, this included the process of cooking.
Part of our vision for raising our daughters was to raise them to be capable and resourceful. We wanted them to know how to look after themselves, how to pick up after themselves, how to feed themselves and how to be a positive citizen in their community. Their dad (the very practical one in the family!) taught them how to paint walls, some very basic electrical work and how to use a drill. If we had boys, they too would have been expected to learn how to cook, clean and do their part inside and outside of the house.
Many of you would know, Greeks of old cook without a recipe; my mum did, her mum did and her mum did. They were shown by the previous generation how to cook and the job was completed by memory.
I grew up watching my mum occasionally. (I played a lot of sport growing up – it was my other love!). She never instructed me, as she was not that way inclined – she just preferred to do it herself. Many people are like that and struggle to ‘teach’ so therefore I had to teach myself, which didn't bother me as I loved 'discovering'.
As young as 7, I would be baking away in the kitchen, reading the instructions on the back of a packet of cake mix and producing some yummy cakes for my siblings. There were many times though that the cake would get stuck and crack. But I would persevere and it wasn’t until I was in high school during my home science lessons I realised I was missing a step – greasing the cake tin!
When our girls came along, I was keen to teach them how to move around a kitchen. We started off making lots of simple cakes, muffins and slices. Hubby’s mum introduced us to Aussie baking recipes such as chocolate slice, raspberry coconut slice, peanut cookies and apple pie. These recipes were very foreign to me but I quickly became very familiar with them and loved them.
We would use the dining table to work at, everyone had their spot, grabbing the items they needed and away we would go. One thing I was very particular about was not to be particular! I didn’t expect their creations to turn out ‘perfect’ or shaped exactly how it ‘should’ be. If they came up with an idea to put their own twist on the recipe, I let them go for it.
When cooking with toddlers, you need a lot of that. You need to give them 100% supervision, teaching them how to handle their tools and using a butter knife to cut ‘soft’ ingredients is a great start in teaching them about cutting with a knife. And a little heads up for you - don’t clean the house before your cooking adventures begin, as you will find the clean floor will no longer be clean!
During this cooking experience you have with your toddler, it will be not only be about cooking but also areas of chemistry, mathematics and language will be crossed. They will further develop their fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, balance etc… I usually count with my little grandie, making sure I use lots of language and let her experiment with some of the ingredients. A good one is when mixing bicarbonate soda and vinegar…a great little diversion to keep their interest in what you are doing.
I believe that allowing your toddler or any age child to help in the cooking process will put them in a better position to eat the food they have just helped prepare. And don’t worry about your toddler tasting everything before it even goes in the mixing bowl, if you are using natural foods it won’t hurt them and in fact it may expand their tastes!
From our experience of raising our own children and now having the privilege of being a yia yia (grandma) I wholeheartedly say your toddler is never too young to help with the cooking and I believe it is a plus-plus in their whole development.
So I leave you with this one last piece of encouragement – KISS – when cooking with toddlers – Keep It Simple Sweetie!
Happy Cooking and feel free to send me some photos of you and your kiddies cooking…I’d love to post them on social media to encourage other parents of toddlers/kiddies.
*Photos of children’s faces will be blurred to protect their identity according to the children’s regulations unless otherwise advised by parents.