My daughter loves to help me cook. She is always so curious about what I’m making and what ingredients I’m working with. Without fail, every time she sees me in the kitchen, she comes up to me and asks me “mama, what you making?”. I tell her, and her follow up question will usually be “mama, what you got?”—inquiring about what ingredient I am handling at the time. I will then tell her, she’ll repeat what I say, then ask to try some of whatever it is. I’ll let her, and her usual response is “oh, I like ‘whatever she has just tried.’” Sometimes she isn’t a fan of the foods she tries and she lets me know, but more often than not, her feedback is positive and we have just discovered a new, healthy food that she enjoys to eat. This is why it is so important that we allow our toddlers to be hands on in the kitchen. They develop their own curiosity and knowledge of food, discerning what they like and dislike at their own pace.
So, how do I get my daughter involved in the cooking process? There are several routine “responsibilities” in the kitchen that I have designated to my daughter. For one, I let my daughter help me pick out and arrange our ingredients for a dish before we even start cooking. I pick her up and point out to her what I need from the cabinet. She can grab everything and get it all arranged on the counter for me—this is a double win because not only does it give her a job to do, but it also makes things a lot easier while cooking to have all the ingredients already set out.
Another thing that my daughter always helps me with is what she calls “salt and peppers,”—“Mommy, I need to do ‘salt and peppers’,” she tells me. She’s referring to seasoning the foods with spices. I will either pre measure whatever seasonings and spices I am using for a dish and allow her to sprinkle that over the dish or I will just eye ball it and tell her when she should stop—she prefers this so she can vigorously shake the jars of seasoning over the food. Another great thing to do is to let your toddler help prep certain foods. For example, peeling skin off of onions and garlic or separating the stem from the leaves of herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil. In order for my daughter to safely reach the counter, I sit her in one of our barstool chairs—they have the height of a barstool, but have full backs and sides and are very sturdy. If you don't have chairs that work for the height of your kitchen counter, I have seen pods advertised online that are almost like tall high chairs that are specifically designed for allowing toddlers to sit safely at counter height while helping out in the kitchen.
Last but not least, you can give your toddler his or her own set of kitchen tools and allow him or her to safely practice handling kitchen tools. Despite the number of play kitchen sets my daughter has, she would much rather use my tools than her toys. So I made us a matching “Mommy and Minnie Me” cutting board set, so that my baby girl can have a cutting board, just like mine, and her very own wooden knife. Though safe and dull, she can use it to practice her slicing skills on things like avocados and bananas.