Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

When is it safe for children to help cook? My son of 2yrs 4mths always wants to help me.

When will it be safe for my children to cook with me? Sophie is 13 months and Ben is 2 years 4 months. They are always wanting to “help” in the kitchen, but I am worried about them having accidents.

Deciding when children are ready to help in the kitchen really depends on what you are doing. Some everyday tasks, such as peeling and slicing, are beyond them, but there are plenty of things they can do. Ben can fetch vegetables and dry ingredients for you, if they are stored in a place he can reach. Both children can be given a wooden spoon and allowed to stir ingredients in a bowl, even if it is just breaking up mince prior to you cooking it. Helping to decide how to decorate their pizzas for tea is also something they will enjoy. Food preparation may take a little longer with two extra pairs of hands, but your children will gain immense satisfaction in being allowed to help.

Showing Ben the correct way to cut will come in a few months, although using a plastic picnic knife to cut lettuce or banana could well be within his scope now. Point out the dangers to him, but try not to be over-protective as most small children take the responsibility of helping very seriously.

Letting toddlers cook for pleasure can be a great rainy day activity. One of the easiest activities is making cakes. Keep some ready-made cake mix in the cupboard. Sophie can join in the stirring with a wooden spoon and Ben can manage whisking the milk and egg together. With some help, they can both spoon the mixture into cake cases and decorate them when cooked. Don’t worry about trying to get a perfect result – the cakes will still taste good even if they are misshapen!

If you wish to cook from scratch, then find a simple biscuit recipe. Remove butter from the fridge in advance to make creaming easier. Divide the mixture into two, and give each child a bowl and spoon. Alternatively, use ready-made shortcut pastry to roll out and cut into circles to fit tart tins. Sophie may need help with a cutter, but Ben should easily mange this. Use for jam tarts or mix up a savoury filling of egg and cheese. Child-sized rolling pins and plastic cutters are preferable. With encouragement, Ben will also enjoy helping to wash up. Just make sure he is standing securely at the sink and is well protected with an apron.

There are a lot of children’s cookbooks and equipment around – just adapt the ideas for your young chefs. Encouraging your children to help in the kitchen can be great fun, as well as providing opportunities for counting, measuring and weighing.