Most toddlers and preschoolers love to be "helpers" in the kitchen. And while that extra set of hands might slow things down and make more of a mess, introducing your child to cooking can be a nice way to bond and spend time together. As a bonus: Being involved with meal preparation may even help encourage your tot to establish healthy eating habits and to try new foods. Here's how to make the most of your time with your junior chef.
Choose an easy recipe.
Keep your child's age and developmental level in mind when picking a dish, avoiding complicated or time-consuming recipes. Choose something with only a few ingredients and simple steps, like a fruit-and-yogurt parfait. Because little kids like to stick their fingers in their mouths, avoid anything that could expose them to uncooked ingredients that pose a risk, like cookie dough made with raw eggs.
Grocery shopping with a toddler in tow may make for a longer outing, but it can be fun and educational to find the ingredients needed to make a dish together. Boost your toddler’s development by making the shopping trip a learning experience. As you pull items from the shelves, talk about how they add to the dish's flavor ("These blueberries will help make our muffins sweet!"), ask your child whether he wants a red, yellow, or green pepper in your salad, or give him an introductory spelling lesson by pointing to letters on packaging ("Sugar starts with the letter 's'").
Find simple tasks.
Kitchen activities suitable for young children (under your watchful eye) can include rinsing fruit, pouring in sugar or other ingredients, stirring, mashing, and patting. A fun game for an older child is to drop blueberries onto cooked pancakes to create smiley faces or the first initial of her name.
Safety precautions and constant supervision in the kitchen are key. Let your child know what is okay for her to use and touch and what is always off limits, such as the whirring beaters of a mixer, sharp utensils, and hot surfaces, such as the stovetop and oven. Be sure that you always keep pot handles turned in toward the stove, to prevent accidents.
Praise your child's cooking prowess as you sample your dishes together, and try your best to ignore the flour on the floor or that cup of spilled milk. The important thing is that you're boosting your child's confidence by encouraging her to master new skills and even sample new foods. Bon appétit!