Anybody with small children knows that it can be tough to get food prepared when they want you to play, they want to help or are whining because they are “hangry” (hungry + angry.) Well, my best solution is to put them to work with you! You want them to learn how to feed themselves anyway, right? Kids yearn to help starting from a very young age (~15 months.) Harness that interest before it wanes and you have to nag at them to help you. Here are a few ways to get your toddlers to help. Try a few out and let me know in the comments how it went!
Stirring / Whisking
This is probably the first thing we had our son help with and he still loves it.
I learned about having toddlers do this from various Montessori blogs and books, so I went for it at age 3, but some folks start much younger, like 18 months. Here is a knife that is easy for little hands to work with, that actually cuts. This should go without saying, but be sure to teach them to keep their fingers clear of the blade while they use it!
Setting the Table
My son would do this on his own, by passing out coasters for glasses and napkins that I left on the table. But, just recently he started moving the glasses I had gotten out and had sitting on the counter to the table to help me. <3
This was another one my son decided he was ready for at about age 3. He was helping to stir something on the stove and said he wanted to put it on the plates for everyone, so I held the plates and he scooped the food on to them. What a look of achievement when he was done! Priceless! And, then he bragged to his dad that he served the plates when we sat down to eat. You can’t teach a lesson like that, sometimes, you just have to follow your child’s lead and watch them succeed.
Wiping the Counters / Table
This one kids pick up by modeling your behavior. I try to clean the kitchen, including wiping our table and counters after dinner each night. Try giving your children a washcloth to help you wipe the table. Or, if you have a small table for them, have them wipe their own table clean.
Clearing Their Plates and Glasses
This one, I waited until my son was tall and strong enough to put his plate and glass on the counter, but need to work on encouraging him to do it on a regular basis as it is a good habit. :) Both my kids, as soon as they could walk, could follow the instructions to throw stuff in to the trash can, like juice boxes or empty squeezes.
Put Sticks in the Ice Pop Molds
So this one is just fun for the kids to do; it’s not like it takes any time or effort for you, but the more you let them help, the more they will keep wanting to help.
Peel the Shell Off Hard Boiled Eggs
This one speaks for itself. Your kids will get to exercise their fine motor skills as an added bonus.
Sprinkling seasonings on guacamole, steaks, veggies... you name it. I just get the seasonings out and help to open lids and supervise how much gets used. Don’t need a whole bottle of garlic powder on one pork chop, right? :)
Putting Dishes Away
Sorting silverware and other utensils is a great learning activity. (I put the sharp stuff away first.) My kids also would hand me plates and bowls from the dishwasher for me to put away. I expect when they are taller and can reach, that they can do it all, which I remember being an after-school chore for my sisters and I. My son knows where everything goes, however, as he helped both Grandma and Nana put dishes away when they were helping out when his baby sister was born. (He was 2.5 years old.) He wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t allowed him to stay in the kitchen with me all the time.
Push Buttons to Turn on Appliances
My kids seem to have a loud sound aversion at certain ages, but other times, if they stay in the kitchen when I run the blender or food processor, usually they ask to push the buttons to turn it on and off. Always a good opportunity to explain how to use these things safely.
Funny story (kinda) - I had put a roast into my crockpot one day and turned it on and went to work. Well, sometime during the morning, my two year old son had stretched and reached and managed to hit the off button without me or his nanny noticing, so when I came home, there was no smell of cooked food and I threw out the whole roast. I’m not sure what we ate for dinner that night, but he definitely got a talking to about pushing buttons on the crock pot. LOL
I don’t bake a whole lot anymore, but I will mix up smoothies here and there, so my son will scoop out the protein powder and add to the blender.
Put Ice Cubes Into Glasses
It gets HOT where we live in the summer, so we typically bring ice water outside when we play so it has a chance of staying cool. We have a freezer drawer at the bottom of our fridge, so the ice cube box is at perfect high for little hands to reach in and carefully put ice cubes one by one into glasses. Another priceless look by the 15 month old that she was truly helping Mama in the kitchen.
I hope if you have young children that you try some of these or come up with more and share them below! We are teaching our children to be self-sufficient adults, right? You don’t want them to be that guy in college that can’t boil water to make a box of Mac & Cheese, am I right?
As always, with love, hugs and smiles,