When you picture a kitchen and a toddler you might automatically thing of all the dangers that you wouldn’t want them going near – ovens, cookers with hot pans, knives, and potentially a lot of mess! You might be surprised however at the number of things they are perfectly capable of, and more to the point, really enjoy helping with.
When you’re cooking or baking with young children they don’t need to do everything you’re doing – you might find they only do a few steps, coming and going from the kitchen. If you do want to get them involved, you can teach your kids to cook by giving them age appropriate tasks that they are capable of doing and match their skill level. Great jobs kids can help with include:
Whether its eggs for an omelette or cream this is a basic skill that most toddlers should be able to master. Use a simple hand whisk or freestanding mixer for whipping cream. If you’re using a whisk for something with flour or icing sugar in it, be sure to start slowly at first to try and minimise the mess!
This takes a bit of practice but get your child to gently tap the egg on the rim of a bowl before pushing their thumbs in and cracking it open. If you want to be sure that no shell gets in, do each egg separately in a dish before adding it into your bowl. If shell does get in, use a larger bit of shell to fish out any small bits – shell sticks to shell so it’s an easier way of doing it.
This is a great place to start, particularly if you’re baking something together. Be prepared for a bit of mess if you’re measuring out flour, but it’s a simple case of giving your toddler a spoon and watching them measure your ingredients into a bowl. I prefer using our digital scales, especially when i’m baking because it’s much more accurate but if you don’t have any, you can still use special measuring cups. Place the bowl on a scale with the numbers facing towards you so you can see how much is going in and to try and stop small fingers pressing any buttons! There are also lots of chances to measure when you’re cooking. Using measuring spoons to measure out herbs and spices for a meal is a great job for a little chef.
Just give your toddler a spoon and let them help stir. This is great when you’re baking but you’ll also find lots of opportunities while you’re cooking dinner – whether it’s a pancake mixture or some spices for a marinade. You can even let them get their hands dirty by helping you mix together and make meatballs from fresh mince. Older children can even help you mix a sauce as you’re cooking it for a meal. Only let older children who can be trusted around a hot pan do this – my eldest loves the responsibility of stirring our dinner!
Just like playdough but even better because it’s edible. All kids should be able to do this, even young toddlers – something like pizza dough pizza dough or pitta bread are great places to start as they can take rougher handling than biscuits or pastry. To get an even roll, I find I have to encourage my kids to gently roll the rolling pin as they tend to press down too hard and squash the dough. If you find whatever you’re rolling sticks to your rolling pin put a sheet of baking paper on top of your dough. And don’t forget to rotate your dough on your worktop after every roll to make sure it’s nice and even.
This is a good thing for little ones to practice but keep a close eye on them as it can be messy if it goes wrong! The best way to be accurate when you pour is to put a cup or jug on your digital measuring scales and use the ml setting.
There are lots of ways your little one can help your decorate biscuits and cakes. Make some simple icing (icing sugar + water), pop in some colouring, and let them drizzle it on your bakes. You might want to add some sprinkles or buy some of those little ice writers – it’s great for practising finger dexterity and building up their finger muscles. Alternatively, if you want a shot of piping onto a biscuit, add your icing to a small zip lock/freezer bag and snip a tiny hole in the corner.
Cupcakes also lend themselves to some fun decorating, that kids will love. Use your imagination, some sprinkles or other chocolate pieces and see what you and your kids can come up with.
Get your toddler to crush biscuits for a cheesecake base or to put in a rocky road. This is so simple and so much fun (at least in our house) which makes it the perfect job for little chefs. To make it no mess, instead of using a bowl, simply pop the biscuits in a bag and then crush them with a rolling pin!
Some dinners also involve some fun bashing. If you’ve got a meat tenderizer, or even a rolling pin then see if your kids can help you bash some meat for a stroganoff or to make a chicken schnitzel.
I’ll be honest and say I don’t often use our sieve. It will make your biscuits or cakes lighter and fluffier but when you give a small child a sieve and some flour or icing sugar you can probably expect some mess! Having said that, your toddler or older child will probably enjoy watching the flour fall through the mesh into your bowl.
Whether it’s helping you mash potatoes for dinner or mashing up bananas to go into banana bread, this is an easy and fun thing for the littlest helpers in the kitchen. If you don’t have a masher, as long as the fruit is soft enough, a fork should do the trick.
Not all chopping needs a sharp knife which means even young children can try it. You can cut things like mushrooms or soft fruit with a regular butter knife. Anything where is doesn’t matter whether all your pieces end up the same size is a great place to start
You’ll need to do this when you make any kind of bread. It doesn’t matter if you don’t do it perfectly so it’s a great thing for exercising little hands. Children will also enjoy seeing how the texture changes the more you knead something. Often dough starts out quite sticky but becomes softer and smoother over time. You often have to knead dough for ten minutes+ so if you want to save time and have a freestanding mixer, use your dough hook to do the hard work then finish on your worktop.
There’s no one way to knead dough which is what makes it such a great activity for kids. We tend to hold one end then stretch the dough away from us before folding it back on itself, giving it a bit of a bash then turning it 90 degrees and doing it again. It’ll usually take 5-10 minutes to do it properly.
Buttering bread is actually harder than it looks, but as sandwiches are a great quick lunch it’s easy to get a lot of practice. If butter or marg is too hard, you might find something like mayonnaise easier to spread to begin with. Aside from sandwiches there are lots of other recipes where kids can practice spreading – from sauce on a pizza to nutella or pesto on one of our pastries. With these recipes you can also spread with the back of a spoon rather than a knife.