Finding time to cook while caring for a child of any age can be difficult.
Keeping children away from sharp knives and hot stoves are essential for their safety, but may not be easy when you are focusing on cooking. Rather than simply cooking for your child, try cooking with your child!
This may seem like a crazy idea, and you may have a lot of questions, but cooking can be used as a great learning tool for children of all ages.
Let’s look at some ways children can help and learn with you in the kitchen.
Babies (0-12 months)
There are not many ways a baby can help you while you are cooking, but there are many ways you can help them!
Cooking is a great multisensory experience.
Most often while people cook, babies are situated in their high chair or safe space in the kitchen. They are already there with you, so why not give them a great learning experience while you cook?
Children experience different smells, tastes, textures, and sounds in the kitchen. Some ways to enhance your baby’s learning in the kitchen include:
- Play with pots and wooden spoons. Encourage your child to explore the pots and spoons with all of their senses. Let them bang on the pots, pretend to stir like you are, taste the spoons and pots, etc. Talk to your child about what you are doing with your pots and spoons, as well as what they are doing. This will expose them to new vocabulary and fine motor skills, and develop their understanding of what pots and spoons are used for. Try other safe cooking materials as well! Plastic cups and bowls, child-safe spoons and forks, and colanders are all fun materials for your baby to explore.
- Play with tasting different ingredients as you use them. Allow your child to taste foods you are cooking with by placing them on their high chair tray or plate. If they do not seem interested in tasting, simply let them explore the food with their other senses.
Simply talk to them! Let them watch what you are doing while you talk about it. Say “Stir the pot” and “mix the batter” as you do these things. The more exposure your child has to language, the better; and the kitchen is a great place to expose them to new vocabulary.
Toddlers (12-36 months) and Preschoolers (36-60 months)
There are a few different ways your toddler can help you in the kitchen.
Toddlers are often in the “I can do it” phase, so this is a perfect way to allow them to do something on their own. Allowing your toddler to helping you in the kitchen may add a bit of time to your cooking, but it will be worth it for what your child is learning and how they feel when they are finished.
Be sure the ingredients you are giving your child are toddler-friendly because they will most likely want to taste them!
Try some of these ways to involve your toddler in cooking:
- Stirring! Toddlers love to stir, so why not allow them to mix together simple ingredients in a bowl?
- Wash the fruit or vegetables - place them in a bowl of water and let your child have at it! Try giving them a clean toothbrush to wash the produce with as well.
- Let them tear the lettuce for a salad - or break other (safe) ingredients that need to be broken.
- Turn the pages of a recipe book -This teaches pre-reading skills and gets children interested in books.
- Gather ingredients from low shelves. This works on vocabulary (do they know what an apple is?) as well as gross and fine motor skills.
- Mash softened fruit or veggies - this is just fun! Kids love to smash and mash anything they can get their hands on, so why not allow them to do it in a helpful way?
Recipe: Rainbow Frozen Yogurt Bark
1. Before starting, prepare some fruit of different colors by chopping it into small pieces. Some fruits that are great for this include:
- strawberries (red)
- peeled orange slices (orange)
- pineapple (yellow)
- kiwi (green)
- blueberries (blue)
- raspberries (purple)
2. Let your child help you spread some yoghurt onto a sheet tray covered in parchment paper. Give them a spoon or simply let them use their hands!
3. Allow your child to sprinkle the chopped up fruit over top of the yoghurt on the tray.
4. Drizzle some honey on top of the fruit.
5. Put the tray into the freezer for at least two hours.
6. After it is frozen, take it out of the freezer and help your child break it into small pieces, either using a wooden spoon or simply with your hands.
Kira is on the Education team at Wunder with 7+ years of experience in early childhood special education and has a passion for creating and delivering effective early childhood curriculum to support the learning of all children.
Kira received her first teaching certificate with her MA in Early Childhood Special Education in Washington, DC, where she served a diverse group of young learners. She now lives in the Philadelphia area, where she serves as an early childhood special education teacher with Philadelphia Public Schools.