Preschool Cooking Ideas and Tips
Toddlers can learn basic kitchen skills
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Food is the language of love in my family. I knew from the time I was little that if I had a child I wanted them in the kitchen with me. Many of my best memories from both my childhood and adult life were in my Grandmother and Aunt’s kitchens.
I distinctly remember my 18 month old daughter seeing me in my mother in law’s kitchen and running to get a chair to push over so she could “help”. My mother-in-law thought it was the most wonderfully amazing sight.
Now that she’s a toddler it’s pretty rare for her not to get involved while I’m cooking.
Sure, it’s sometimes more work than “help”, but I think the pay off is worth the effort. There are a multitude of reasons to bring your preschoolers in the kitchen.
At Growing Minds, there is a great resource on how cooking helps preschoolers with many basic skills. They also have a lot of free resources for creating lessons and purposeful experiences for your little one.
I love having her in the kitchen because it allows us to connect on a different level than coloring or playing with lego’s. I’m teaching her a skill that will carry her through life. Everyone’s gotta eat right?
Not only that, but we’re building her vocabulary, reading, learning to follow a recipe, using gross and fine motor skills.
Winning the picky toddler food battles one veggie at a time
She also is learning to be more adventurous in her eating without the battles. We talk about eating a rainbow and then we learn how our bodies are nourished by a certain fruit or vegetable. By starting out early, we are building a foundation for healthier life choices later.
Besides the many health reasons experts list that encourage us to help our kiddo’s make better choices, there is also the reality of how much easier life is with an adventurous eater. No more trying to patiently weave together a meal around the 4 things they like to eat.
Does my daughter eat everything we put in front of her? No. Do we continue to introduce it and have a “try at least one bite of everything” guideline? Yes.
Admittedly it has been a lot of work to get to this point and continues to be a focus every day. There are some tools that have helped me get to this point and continue to make the journey to healthy choices easier and more fun.
Toddler Kitchen Stool the Ultimate Preschool Cooking Tool
My absolute favorite thing that we have in our kitchen for my daughter is our toddler tower. My husband made ours as a Christmas Present for me when my daughter was 1 1/2 years old. We found the plans here at Ana White and the wood cost us about $20.
Side note, if you haven’t ever visited Ana White’s site before, brace yourself. You might find yourself sucked in by all of the amazing projects and then frantically running down the road to Home Depot to buy wood for your new DIY deck…
If you are not confident in feeling handy and don’t want to shell out the Pier One prices, you can find a selection on ETSY. I personally recommend the towers with a movable platform that will grow with your child. This looks like the Toddler Tower with the same exact design that we use with some great reviews.
I cannot emphasize enough how much of a difference this has made in my comfort level having her in the kitchen. Now, instead of being wary that she’s going to slip fall off a chair I can set her up with a task and then move comfortably around the kitchen.
Before I would feel like I needed to be within arms reach which isn’t always viable when you’re trying to move between the stove, sink, cupboards and fridge.
When not in use she has mulit-purposed it into a tent at times, a reading nook and a puppet theater. Not bad for $20 and a few hours of work. Almost 2 years later it still looks as good as new.
Possibly my favorite Christmas present, although it is a close tie with my fabulous immersion blender.
Other toddler kitchen accesories
The other gear that helps her get involved in the kitchen is a set of her own tools. If you have been around the under 5 age group for more than 4.5 minutes, you probably know that they like to have their own miniature versions of whatever tool you are currently using.
That’s how we’ve ended up with a mini watering can, mini makeup kit and mini lounge chairs.
Her kitchen set came from the local Target and is actually a set of dishes for a convection oven. I found specialty kits for kids online pricing between $40-$60 and thought heck no! This is the perfect set with miniature pans and cookie sheets and a cooling rack.
I’ll probably be getting her another set in 16 years when she’s moving to college, but for now she LOVES having her own set of pans and dishes.
Matching aprons are a big hit in our house. We had a super cute set we ordered through Amazon, but admittedly it is not the one we use all the time.
While it is adorable with fun ruffles and a pocket, I should have paid more attention to the material it is made out of. Cute for serving, it’s not made from a thick or durable material that protects our clothes and isn’t great for actually creating.
Honestly, our favorite aprons came from grandma for her birthday last year. They are made from a durable thick cotton, easily washed and thick enough to protect our clothes in case of spills (so basically constantly.) If you are not in need of a personalize apron, these Toddler Aprons look durable, are personalized and have great reviews.
She also loves this Starbucks apron that a friend of mine got for her knowing that we love our mommy and me tea dates.
The other tools that we have for the kitchen are tools that I create for her. Have you ever noticed that all of the recipes for kids to cook require reading at an adult level? I wanted her to be able to create and take the lead.
Toddler led cooking requires toddler friendly recipes
So I created visual recipes for our favorite foods. It honestly took a little time compiling the clipart, but I’m making a cookbook for her for Christmas, so I justify the time invested.
She LOVES banana bread. Thankfully we often have leftover bananas in the house and are always looking for creative ways to use them up.
Another favorite of hers is the banana chocolate muffins. (Admittedly not my favorite flavor combination, but she loves them so we still make them sometimes)
I created visual recipes for her and she becomes the chef and I’m her assistant. She loves getting to direct me around the kitchen and proudly proclaims when her dad gets home. “Daddy I made bonana bread today!!”
After I create our menus for the week, I also quickly create a visual shopping list for her and leave her in charge of it when we’re shopping. As we go through the store she helps me check our list, pick out produce and make choices on the rest of our foods.
I find that the more involved she is in the creation, the more willing she is to try new things. While we’re cooking I make sure that we have some fresh veggies to snack on while we’re creating. She’ll be snacking away on red peppers and carrots that would be more of a struggle if they’re on her plate at dinner.
Getting your toddler involved with grocery shopping
When we’re in the grocery store, we like to try one new veggie each week, even if it’s a veggie we tried before we choose one we can try cooking in a new dish or new method. If she picked them out and helped make them then she is more willing to take a bite.
I also have a master list of veggie’s that we keep on hand for snacks, veggie noodles and cooking needs. I turned that into a visual list that she gets to be in charge of when we’re at the store.
In the past, as in the past before Texas turned into the blazing hot summer, we had a garden we tended every day. Admittedly I am prone to killing plants, I don’t want to, it just happens. So my garden was less about creating a functional contribution to dinner, and more about getting her involved with food from a basic level.
I got this idea from one of our Mother Goose Time STEAM activities last fall where we watched Sweet Potatoes sprout and grow roots. She was absolutely fascinated. So we planted some plants and tried a few things she wouldn’t otherwise.
Such as strawberries. What kid doesn’t like strawberries??? Mine…until we grew one. The only one I was able to save from the birds, but she loved it and has been a strawberry fan ever since. MOMMY WIN!!
What do you do in your house to create fun in the kitchen? Don’t have time to create visual recipes? Download ours here.