It’s an endearing cry that I hear numerous times every day from my just-turned-two-year-old, Sawyer. I’m sure that just about anyone who has ever had a toddler underfoot can relate. The desire to help out and be a part of what the grown-ups are doing is strong for this age group. For the most part, I think I’m a pretty patient person, and it is important to me to teach my son not only how to cook real food but also enjoy time spent in the kitchen. Working together in the kitchen is also a great way to spend time together learning and just chatting about life.
Sometimes, though, it seems that the desire to help is stronger than physical and developmental ability allows for. When I’m rushing to get a last minute meal on the table or in the midst of about 50 kitchen tasks at once (I exaggerate…slightly), the last thing I want is an extra pair of little hands helping me. Obviously there are times when it just isn’t possible for Sawyer to help me, either because of time constraints or for safety reasons. For other times when he wants to help, though, I have compiled a list of ways that he can be of assistance, learning and having fun as he “works.”
Does having a two-year-old helping in the kitchen sometimes mean a little extra clean up? Yes. Does it sometimes take a little longer to accomplish a task? Of course. But knowing that my son is learning how to cook and that he has something to contribute to our family is worth that extra time and clean up (which, incidentally, he can help with) whenever possible.
20 Ways to Get Your Toddler Involved in the Kitchen
Cooking and Baking
- Stirring- This one is pretty self-explanatory!
- Pouring- I often measure ingredients into cups, spoons, and bowls and then let my son dump them into the main bowl or pot for mixing.
- Cracking eggs- Usually Sawyer bangs the egg on the side of the bowl a couple of times and then hands it to me: “Break it, mama!” We’ve had an eggshell or two end up in the bowl, but considering that this is one of his favorite jobs, it’s worth having to fish them out. I also like that he is learning to be careful with the eggs because I want to be able to send him out to the chicken shed to collect eggs in a year or two!
- Adding spices- At our house we cook with a lot of spices, and “spice” was a word that Sawyer learned to say very early. He loves to help me shake the spices into things that we are cooking, but even better is when he can choose which spices to use. For things such as eggs, potatoes, and squash that are very versatile, I open the spice cupboard and let Sawyer choose which spices to put in. Of course some guidance is required to avoid tastes that are too “unique,” but this activity is great for a toddler’s growing sense of independence.
- Rolling balls, scooping dough, smoothing batter, placing items on trays- This activity can get a little messy, but there is a certain sense of satisfaction in scooping dough onto a cookie sheet, smoothing the batter in a pan before it goes into the oven, or arranging items on a tray for serving. Just don’t expect uniformity!
- Measuring- While most toddlers probably can’t scoop out a teaspoon of baking soda or measure a cup of coconut flour, they can tell you if a scoop or cup is completely full or whether or not your ingredient comes up to a certain line on a measuring cup.
- Shaking things- This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. My son loves to shake the jar I keep my homemade elderberry syrup in before we take it or shake up the bottle of apple cider vinegar before using it. Glass jars require some supervision to make sure the shaking doesn’t get too crazy, but this is a quick, easy, and fun toddler task.
- Taste testing- This one might seem a little obvious, but it is a good chance to discuss words we use to describe food, such as “spicy,” “salty,” “delicious,” “bitter,” “dry,” etc. For younger toddlers a simple “yummy” or “yucky” will suffice!
- Talking about what you’re doing- Even when there aren’t specific tasks for a toddler to help with in the kitchen, he can still learn a lot by watching you and talking about what is happening while you work. “This recipe calls for ¾ cup, but I need to double it, so I need to use 1 ½ cups.” There are a lot of mathematical and important life concepts to be picked up just by talking through what is happening in the kitchen.
- Washing and drying dishes- The dishes your toddler “washes” may not actually be up to standards when it comes to cleanliness, but the water and bubbles are pretty much irresistible to most toddlers. If you aren’t up for wet clothes and water splashed on the floor, give your toddler a towel and let her dry the unbreakable dishes. Again, they probably won’t be perfectly dry, but it’s good practice and a good way for her to feel useful.
- Putting dishes away- Also self-explanatory. Non-breakable dishes and ones stored close to floor level work best.
- Folding washcloths and dish towels- This spills over into the laundry department a little, but most toddlers are willing and able to fold small towels and washcloths with some assistance. They can also help put them away. Again, don’t expect perfection!
- Match lids with containers- It seems as if every house has one of those drawers or cupboards full of containers and lids that don’t necessarily match each other. A great task to assign a toddler is to find a lid for a specific container. Depending on their age and how much practice they’ve had, it may take a bit of extra direction, but this task can buy you some time to do less toddler-friendly jobs.
- Clean counters- Given a wet washcloth, my son doesn’t just stop at the counter. He also cleans the table, the fronts of the cupboards, the chairs, the floor, the doorknobs…I bet you never realized wiping things down was so much fun!
- Emptying things like boxes or cupboards- One thing that all toddlers are experts at is emptying things. This can actually come in handy when you want the contents of a box or package to be emptied into a bowl or pot or when it comes time to organize the kitchen and an entire cupboard needs to be emptied. Ask a toddler to do it, and it will be done in no time!
- Sweeping/wiping the floor- Obviously you can’t expect a toddler to remove every crumb from your kitchen, but if something spills or you need to keep her busy while you open the very hot oven, give your toddler a broom and dustpan or wet rag and ask her to clean.
Planning, Purchasing, and Preparing for Meals
- Making lists/meal plans- A lot of toddlers are very into writing and drawing on things, mine included. So when I sit down to make a list of groceries we need or plan out meals for our family, I make sure Sawyer has his pad of paper and pen to make his own list. I also ask him questions about what sounds good to him: “Should we have burgers or soup for supper tonight?”
- Picking out groceries- Sawyer is almost always with me when I’m purchasing food, so when it isn’t important that I have a specific item, I will give him choices and honor his decisions. “Do you want green apples or red ones?” “Do you want green beans or broccoli?”
- Putting away groceries- While you wouldn’t know it by the tornado-struck look of my house a lot of days, my toddler is a big proponent of the saying, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” He knows exactly where all of the groceries are supposed to go, so when we get home from the store, the co-op, the farm, or the butcher’s, I let him direct me as to where everything should go. For items that have “homes” he can reach, such as the produce drawers in the fridge, I let him put them away himself.
- Setting the table- Obviously this one has its limits, as some parts of the place settings are breakable, but even just putting silverware on the table is a task that makes toddlers feel important.
Between these 20 tasks, it is pretty easy for me to find something for my son to do almost every time I am working in the kitchen. On those days when I just need to do it myself, I ask him to play with the magnetic letters on the fridge or to cook something for me (or our family, or his dolls and animals) in his play kitchen, which is located right next to my kitchen. That way I can keep an eye on him and we can converse while I work.
Do you have other tried and true methods of including your toddler in the kitchen? What is his or her favorite task? Leave a comment sharing what has worked for you!
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