The Youngest Kids CAN Cook
They are walking and perhaps talking, but can they cook? You bet! Even the youngest children can be successful in cooking and food preparation. The value of having a tiny tyke assisting in the kitchen extends far beyond the memories you'll make. A young child's language, fine (small) motor, and cognitive skills are greatly enhanced through activities that can be found in the kitchen. With a little practice, you might find that having an extra set of little hands is not only fun, but also helpful.
Before you hand over the recipe card for tonight's dinner to your young child, keep in mind these few things:
- Safety is the first priority. Specifically, be mindful of hot stoves and ovens, sharp knives and scissors, etc. Be thoughtful, proactive and watchful. When interacting with your child, it's important to set and maintain consistent rules in the kitchen regarding what is appropriate (i.e. pouring and stirring) and what is not appropriate (i.e. turning on the oven). Also, use a child-sized table vs. having your child work on the countertop if possible. And, of course, never leave your child unattended in the kitchen.
- Think child-sized. When having your child help in the kitchen, if possible, use tools that are manageable for small hands. For instance, it may be worth using a smaller measuring cup and pouring more times than using a large measuring cup that may be difficult for small hands to handle.
- Accept that there is going to be a mess and there are going to be spills. When entering the kitchen, you and your child should both “dress for mess and come for fun.” Spills can be cleaned up and the outcomes generally outweigh these “bumps.” Young children also like to help so empower them to assist when spills do happen. Provide items such as towels and a small broom and dustpan. It may take a little longer and be imperfect, but those things are worth far less than the experience you are providing your child.
- Stop or change the activity if it is not working. Cooking with a young child takes time and patience. Plan to slow the tasks down and focus on the process and not the product being created. In other words, it's not a good idea to get a young child involved in the work if you are in a hurry!
- Start simply. Start with the basics like stirring milk into a pudding mix. Next, try something like a basic cookie recipe. Outside of actually cooking, think about involving your child in other tasks in the kitchen such as helping set the table, taking items such as condiments to and from the refrigerator, clearing their plate, and even helping to wash the dishes! Simplicity of tasks will breed confidence and success for both you and your child.
With the acceptance of the above conditions, you and your child are sure to be successful cooks in the kitchen!