Cooking with toddlers is a great way to spend quality time with your child and teach them cooking skills. It can be a fun cooking activity for you both! Cooking is not just about measuring, stirring, and baking – cooking with kids teaches children math skills, scientific concepts, socialization skills (working together), language development (learning new words), and more. In this post, I will give you the best tips for cooking with toddlers as well as some of my favorite recipes that are perfect for cooking with kids.
Why Cooking With Your Toddlers Is Important
Cooking with your toddlers is a great way to spend quality time and teach cooking skills. It is a life skill that offers a multitude of benefits for your toddler both cognitively and physically.
Benefits of Cooking with Toddlers
Many of the benefits that come from cooking with your toddler may not be readily apparent. Cooking is a life skill that provides important bonding time for you and the child as well as an opportunity to teach them cooking skills in a fun way!
- Cooking Skills – Teaching children cooking skills at an early age can help prepare them for future cooking endeavors. Additionally, they are learning cooking safety skills.
- Math & Science – From measuring and counting to learning food science, involving your kiddos in the kitchen is a fun way to start to teach math and science concepts through real world experiences. Cooking can be an excellent gateway into biology by helping your kids learn about the plants and animals that are the source of the food we eat. It also involves a lot of basic chemistry when your child combines and manipulates different ingredients in the process.
- Quality Time with YOU – Cooking is a great way to spend quality time with your child while you simultaneously accomplish something. (Of course, it would be easier AND less messy to cook without your child, but it’s worth it to involve them when you’re up to the task). I will never forget some of the memories I’ve made with my son cooking and preparing food in the kitchen.
- Creates Adventurous Eaters – Toddlers are more likely to sample food while they are cooking or even later at the table if they helped prepare it. Food your toddler helps to prepare will feel more familiar to him, which will make him more likely to eat it.
- Develops Fine Motor Skills – My husband is an OT and he is all about our kids developing their fine motor skills. From stirring to cutting to opening containers, kitchen skills will definitely improve your toddler’s dexterity.
- Learn Kitchen Safety – Involving your toddler in the kitchen is a great way to reinforce and teach kitchen safety, including how to work around hot surfaces and how to handle (and not handle) sharp objects.
Tips for Cooking and Baking with Toddlers
The more you bake and cook with your toddler the easier it gets. However, at first, it can definitely feel like a challenge. Just like anything, they start to learn the rules and expectations while they learn how to prep food!
- Set expectations BEFORE you start cooking together. This can include if there are things that shouldn’t be touched or simply reminding your toddler to listen to instructions.
- Prep the kitchen by setting out ingredients, possibly even pre-measuring things that you’d rather your toddler not be involved in, or cracking eggs depending on the age or development of your toddler.
- Have an idea about what your toddler can actually help with! Knowing what tasks you plan to have your toddler assist with can help you guide the entire experience.
- Invest in a sturdy learning tower (we just LOVE this one) as a good landing space for your little one.
- Buy some kid-friendly knives when they are old enough. I have this nylon set and they are great for my responsible 3-year-old to safely work on his cutting skills.
- Start small – even a simple task or kitchen activity can be a great starting place. For example, you could invite your toddler to help you wash produce, spin salad, or stir a baked good. You don’t have to start with a whole recipe or meal.
- Allow plenty of time! Especially if you are just getting started, try to involve your toddler when you have extra time on your hands. A night when you need to get dinner on the table quickly is probably not the best time to start. In fact, if dinner cooking time is a stressful time of the day for you, it may be best to pick a special time for baking with your toddler, such as in the afternoon or morning.
- Have the trash as well as ingredients can handy. When I first started cooking with my son, I quickly learned that even hurrying off to the pantry to throw away trash or grab a missing ingredient could turn into a disaster really quickly.
- Be ready for a mess…because it is inevitable!
I hope these tips help your cooking time with your toddler to go smoothly! Don’t be discouraged if your first few times feel crazy. Once you and your toddler get in the swing of it, it really does get much easier.
At 3.5, my son has been cooking with me for 2 years and honestly, he really can be a help. He has learned what appliances (like a hot stove) need caution and the importance of listening to instructions. Plus, he has developed better coordination and cooking skills making it easier for him to help stir, spread, crack eggs, and not make (as big of) messes.
Try A Kids Cooking Box Subscription
Kids cooking box subscriptions are a great way to amp up the creativity and content in your cooking with kids’ repertoire. You can find cooking boxes for all ages from toddlers all the way to teens!
One of the most popular kits on the market is the Raddish Kids Cooking Club which sends kits monthly and would make a great gift for your child. The Raddish kits are designed for kids 4 and up.
When should I start cooking with my toddler?
The earlier the better! You can start to pretend to cook with your toddler when they are sitting up. I started my kids out by giving them an empty mixing bowl and wooden spoon to pretend with when they were small babies. They also both grew accustomed to watching me cook at a young age from the view of the baby carrier or even highchair.
While many kids can start younger than 2, typically by age 2 most kids will be ready to stand in a learning tower and start cooking. Keep it simple for young toddlers and build from there! I started cooking with my son at around 18 months. He was definitely ready and now at 3, I’m amazed at what he can do in the kitchen.
Best Cooking Activities for Toddlers
The kitchen is like a playground for kids! It’s where they can get creative and explore in new ways! Here are some simple ways you can involve your toddler in the kitchen.
- Have your child help you to prepare produce by washing it, spinning salad greens, or scrubbing potatoes.
- Mix ingredients together with a spoon or spatula.
- Spread ingredients such as batter or spreads on top of toast, crackers, etc
- Cracking eggs is a messy but fun way to involve your toddler in to baking when you and they are ready! It does get messy so make sure they understand the importance of not eating raw eggs.
- Have them pour ingredients into a bowl.
- Help measure dry ingredients like flour or baking powder by spooning them out.
- Roll out cookies or snack balls.
- Grease a baking pan or line a muffin pan with silicone muffin liners.
- When your toddler is older and ready, allow them to use a kid-friendly knife to cut softer produce (bananas, avocados, etc.)
Best Tools & Resources for Cooking with Toddlers
- Learning Tower – We have and LOVE this one, but here are the best learning towers on the market right now!
- Kid Safe Knife Set – I bought these for my son to start learning knife skills and I’m amazed at how well they work.
- Apron – I love Bapron Baby – they are actually a bib/apron and great for cooking/projects etc. I have the preschool size for my 3-year-old and a 6 mo-3T size for my one-year-old. They are perfect and we use them for extra messy meals as well. They wash super easily and dry fast!
- Toddler-Friendly Cookbooks – We’ve got some great recommendations below.
Best Toddler Cookbooks
You can find plenty of good recipes to bake with your toddler online (or in my recommendations below,) but having a toddler-friendly cookbook can be a game-changer if you aren’t used to cooking or running low on creativity.
- Little Helpers Toddler Cookbook: Healthy Kid-Friendly Recipes to Cook Together – this book is full of healthy recipes to fix with your toddler
- Fun with Food Toddler Cookbook – This cookbook is written by a Registered Dietitian and offers recipes as well as food-related activities for toddlers.
- Food Play! Activities for Preschoolers – This book has many different food and cooking activities for preschoolers and receives great reviews!
Easy Recipes to Bake or Cook with Toddlers
You don’t need a fancy recipe to cook with your toddler. In fact, any of your favorite recipes will do. Even more complicated recipes, you can simply involve your toddler in a few steps if you don’t want them involved in the entire recipe.
However, if you are looking for a fun recipe to make along with your toddler, try one of these!
- Banana Oat Pancake Recipe: We love these easy blender banana oat pancakes. Have your toddler dump the ingredients into a food processor or blender and then blend! (Safety Tip: Keep the appliance unplugged until you have the lid on and are ready to actually process.) My toddler loves pushing the button on my food processor.
- Toddler Cookies Recipe: One of my son’s favorite recipes! The recipe is a healthy cookie appropriate for toddlers and even babies! They get to see so many ingredients go in (like carrots) so they are an awesome way to make veggies fun.
- Pumpkin Muffins: Only 6 ingredients – these easy no sugar muffins feel simple enough to make with a little one.
- Snack/Energy Balls: My 3-year-old is in LOVE with this recipe. He loves to help measure the ingredients and mix the balls together. An older toddler or preschooler can also help make them into balls.
- Mini Pizzas – We usually make our mini pizzas on toast or naan bread pizza. Let your toddler make their own pizza and encourage them to add a variety of ingredients (bell peppers, thin chopped spinach, onion, and spices/seasoning are a few of our favorites.)
- Salad Pops – Most people probably call these fruit/veggie skewers but if your kiddos watch Daniel Tiger they may know them as salad pops! Simply put a variety of fruits and veggies on a skewer or toothpick.
- Banana Swirl – Another recipe courtesy of Daniel Tiger, that your kids will love. This is a one-ingredient (bananas) frozen treat that is reminiscent of ice cream.
- Avocado or Hummus Toast – My son loves to help spread things on toast and avocado and hummus are definitely easier to spread than sticky peanut butter.
- Smoothies – My kids love helping to make smoothies so much that they now have their own pretend smoothie maker!
Now, go have fun cooking with your favorite toddler!
It’s never too early to start teaching your toddler some life skills that will help them succeed in the future. Cooking with toddlers is a great way for them to learn how to follow directions and be patient when waiting on things (like toast to come out of the oven or pasta boiling). There are many benefits from cooking together, but don’t worry about getting all fancy right away- you can try these simple recipes and tips at home as you feel ready!
Need more help feeding your kids?!
If you’re looking for more resources on feeding toddlers, download my free toddler grocery list and snack ideas – it’s full of helpful information on what types of food kids eat as well as healthy snacks they enjoy.