what CAN a child do in the kitchen?

Cooking with children.  Looking through our family pictures, we have a lot of pictures of our children cooking.  This partly reflects that it’s one of the few times they are sitting still long enough to actually take a picture, but also that cooking together is an activity that we do frequently that everyone enjoys.
Building on “Kids.  Food.  Cooking.”– based on what happens in our kitchen, here are some tasks that our children can help with at different ages.

First, some helpful equipment and prep work.  Have a sturdy step stool or other way the child can comfortably (and safely) reach the counter.  Extra measuring cups & spoons – ones with different colors for each measurement are nice so a child who can’t read but knows colors can use (or hand to you) the correct cup or spoon.  If you have more than one child, have enough bowls and mixing spoons so that EVERYONE can have a spoon to lick at the end.  Depending on the children, giving them their own bowls for mixing may reduce some of the jostling over taking turns and sharing.  Think through the recipe in advance to identify steps that children can help with (however small) and your cooking strategy.

18 months old (toddler)

Dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl
Mix using a fork or a spoon
Shake – things like cinnamon, salt, other spices / seasonings
Mash a very ripe banana using a fork
Break cookies or crackers
Punch down yeast bread after rise (LOVES to do this!)
Pat / press cookie dough in to pan (such as for bar cookies)
Spread sauce for pizza
Sprinkle cheese
Scoop batter into pan (super messy but fun!)
Hold adult’s hand when using an electric mixer
Help put groceries away

When the toddler starts to throw his spoon on the floor and/or flour at his brother, I know he’s done and it’s time for diversionary tactics.  When possible, I set each kid up with their own work station at the table.  I like to use a cutting board for each child; it’s a good size and makes cleanup relatively easy.  Set the younger child up with their own materials, such as some cookie dough and various cookie cutters and other tools.  Let the younger child go for it with “making cookies”.   Odds are, none of the “cookies” that the toddler makes will actually be edible, but he’ll have a great time and hopefully let the older child actually make cookies without interfering too much.  When our toddler gets tired of this activity, he can usually be distracted with some other form of “helping”.  In our house, that’s giving him the swiffer and letting him “clean” the floors.

4.5 year old (preschooler)

All of the above, plus:

Help roll out cookie dough
Cut cookies using cookie cutters
Make balls of dough (cookies, bread, etc)
Shape cookies (such as press thumbprint into ball of cookie dough, then fill with jam)
Make snakes of dough
Braid bread dough
Measure dry ingredients (with some help)
Scoop batter into pan (muffins, cupcakes, etc.)
Decorate cupcakes / cakes
Cut soft foods using a table knife
Chop using a mezzaluna and wooden bowl

What are some of the things YOUR child does with you in your kitchen?


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