It can be very daunting at first to cook with a toddler or young baby at home. I have a little sunshine of a boy aged 2 years and 6 months, and it is only now that I have learned a few tricks to keep him occupied and happy while I quickly go about cooking dinner or lunch. When my son was much younger, I mostly did all my cooking during his naptimes and that worked a treat for me until he became more active and reduced his naps to just one a day.
These days I’ve braved up and started cooking while he is still awake and around me; I can tell you that it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. Here are my two pennies worth on how to hang out with your toddler in the kitchen and make it fun!
- Kids of all ages love cooking. So let them join in the fun. Their little brains come to life at the variety of colors, textures and smells of ingredients we use everyday and it is a feast for their senses just to see food being, rolled, stuffed, mixed, chopped and then see it bubble, boil or bake away to it it’s last form before it reaches our plates.
- Make sure it’s all safe. A bit of safety can assure you and your toddler have lots of fun. Rearrange any knifes, crockery, glasses lying around to keep them out of sight. Only have your child around if you are doing some light cooking like sauteing, steaming or pan frying. Save anything that requires vigorous boiling, deep-frying or pressure cooking for when he/she’s not near. If you can help it, try not to cook with raw meat in front of your toddler either. Use your judgement and trust your instincts. Only you know your child and if it scares you to cook around him/her in the early days, start small and cook easier ‘safe’ dishes or use recipes that need little or no cooking (and hence less child-monitoring) until you are sure your toddler can be trusted to listen to you when warned. It is also a good habit to teach kids to wash hands properly before and after cooking. If your child is too young, put them on a high chair or prop them on to a stable chair so they see can what’s happening. Remember to always stay calm. If the child is reaching for something hot or sharp you happened to miss moving before they spotted it, say it to them calmly and explain why, without raising your tone
- Make it a regular affair. The more your child sees you carrying out everyday chores
around the house, the more comfortable he/she will get with you being a little occupied and not having your full attention for a few minutes. My kitchen isn’t very big but I have a bit of counter space that I seat my toddler on. You can see from the picture that he is rather close to the stove top, but then my son and I have grown so accustomed to cooking together and have good boundaries established that I feel confident he will listen to me (and he usually does!) when I tell him something’s hot. Plus he has a great sense of awareness himself from observing me constantly all these days.
- Be ready for a bit of mess. I do most of my lunchtime cooking with him near me as in the picture, and I am much more relaxed about having him around than I did when I started out. Don’t let the health and safety boffins ruin all the fun. Just relax and stay calm. If your child messes anything, show him/her how to clean up properly.
- Offer your child a specific task and watch them do it with enthusiasm. My son loves picking out herbs (most mint, coriander and fenugreek) for me to store in the freezer. He also like whisking eggs, mixing flour, peeling potatoes, rolling out dough, mashing vegetables, chopping with butter knifes etc. You can also allow them to help you with washing up. It could be something as simple as passing rinsed dishes to them to put back on the drainer or even wiping a cup or two. You’ll find that more often than not, they are quite happy to be your ‘little helper’.
- Offer them a taste of raw vegetables and other ingredients. This is a great opportunity to let them explore different tastes and textures of ingredients you are planning to cook with. My little man loves onions ( yes, onions!!) and he’s always sneaking some into his mouth every time I have some around chopped and ready for use.
- Give them utensils to play with. My boy loves mimicking me and he has his own spare pot, pan and wooden spoon to pretend he’s cooking. He likes raiding my larder my cloves of garlic to toss around with his spoon, to make things look more real.
- Put on a show! Pretend you are a TV chef and announce what you are about to do next. Throw in sound effects (Use a blender, mixer or pressure cooker and show them whats about to happen to the food you put inside) But be warned not all kids start liking new noises instantly.
- Finally, have fun whatever you are doing. Cooking together is a great time of bonding for me and my son. I know that soon there will come a day when our kids wont be that interested in hanging out with us in the kitchen. So try to relish these moments. And when you are done, always eat your meals together. Kids pick up good dining etiquette and other manners easily when they see it being modeled for them. So go on. Switch off the Television and turn on some good music and get cooking with your wee ones. I hope you will have as much fun as my son and I.
Do the thing you fear, and the fear of death is certain – Mark Twain