I am aware that saying that I enjoy cooking with a toddler might sound crazy but the truth is I do. It's not always easy. It can be challenging and even disappointing if we want to get it done in the same way as when we cook alone. But it can be such a rewarding experience just by preparing the environment and ourselves a little bit.
How to enjoy this adventure:
1. Don’t be attached to the outcome. The journey is more important than the goal (in meditation and in the kitchen with a toddler too). Your cake might not be perfect and maybe you won't even dare to serve it when your friends come to visit but you'll have a happy and proud toddler who will say "I did it!"
2. Prepare the environment.
Since she was a tiny baby my daughter wanted to see what was going on in the kitchen, so we always ended up carrying her in one arm while cooking with the other one. Not ideal.
These 3 things changed our lives:
A learning tower- it's a safe place from where your toddler can access the kitchen counter and cook with you. We have this one from Woomo and we love it
You can also use a low table and then put all the ingredients at your child's level.
Kitchen tools that are children size. They need to be real kitchen tools, just smaller. You can also use some of the adult size kitchen tools if they have an easy grip (our guide to kitchen tools for children here)
An apron. A Montessori apron is amazing because the child can put it on and off without any help. We bought ours on Etsy
3. Chose simple recipes that can be broken down into a couple of small steps. Prepare the ingredients before you start cooking, in small recipients that can be handled by small hands.
If there are more complicated preparations involved or if the recipe includes long waiting times, try to skip them, get creative or prepare them in advance. As an exemple, when we cook lasagnas, I prepare the béchamel sauce by myself and my little one puts together the different layers of lasagna and pours the sauce.
You can find some of our beloved recipes here (simplified and adaptade for cooking with toddlers)
4. Make sure you have more of each ingredient than what’s specified in the recipe. If you have a little gourmet like mine, you might discover that half of the cooked pumpkin disappeared when you turned your back to pick up a spoon.
I have also noticed that my little one eats some ingredients only when she cooks them, never in other circumstances (cooked pumping for example :)
5. Think about how empowered and proud your child feels when she/he doing something meaningful for her/ his family.
6. Be grateful for all the learning that happens naturally just by cooking or baking together: maths, fine-motor skills, vocabulary, sensory experiences to name just a few.
7. Embrace the mess. Yes it will be messy. And even when your little one is very motivated to help you and she does it with all her enthusiasm, there is still more mess to clean then when you cook by yourself. When you contemplate the flour on your kitchen floor think about points n° 5 and n°6.
Bon appétit and enjoy the journey!