One of the reasons that Buggle and Mouse are as comfortable in the kitchen as they are is that they’ve been in the kitchen with us from the time they were tiny!
Some of that is the function of the house we lived in at the time. The kitchen was the largest room in the house and we lived in it. When the children needed something to do while I was making dinner it was natural to put them in a highchair where they could see what I was doing and hand them bits of garlic to peel or bread to cut up with a table knife.
As they grew the things they could do that were useful grew as well and soon enough they could make a salad, or help cut up mushrooms for a meal in a way that really saved me time!
Now Jack is the toddler and most meals are prepped with him standing on a stool, watching, helping where he can and asking lots of questions “Mama, what you doing?” He’s still mostly in the fetch and carry stage of helping but the other day he made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when he saw the sandwich making things left out on the counter!
Six To Twelve Months
- Sit in the highchair and watch and taste bits of things. If the children ask for it I generally give them a taste, unless it might be harmful (raw eggs) or is really spicy. Buggle loved peppercorns at this age and would ask for and then eat them!
- Peel garlic- crush the clove a bit with a knife to loosen the skin then start the peeling before giving it to the child. They may get it peeled, they may eat it instead of giving it back to you. Keep giving them opportunities to try and they will eventually be able to peel garlic every time you cook!
- Cutting- we use a table knife at first and just give them a slice of whatever we are cutting to hack at. A little guidance and help from time to time, placing my hand over the child’s hand on the knife and cutting to give them a sense of what cutting feels like. If they want me to use what they’ve cut I always do (sometimes rinsing it off a bit before adding it to the dish). They feel like they’ve really been a big helper and want to try again.
- Salad- Tearing lettuce isn’t hard but does require concentration and a good pincer grasp. You’ll probably have to re-tear some of the pieces but maybe not, even at this age some children can get pretty obsessive about making small (miniscule!) bits out of a lettuce leaf!
Twelve Months To Two Years
- Stand on a stool and learn to keep their hands back when you have something sharp or are working with raw meat. I say “hands back” and gently put their hands away from my work. If they persist then I sit them on the stool where they can’t see what I’m doing for a few minutes. Much repetition gets the point across and at two Jack knows when he can touch the board and when to keep his hands away.
- Push buttons- on the blender, mixer, food processor, whatever. The boys especially love to do that and I constantly emphasize safety, teaching them to wait to push until I say and to keep their hands back from the blades if I have the machine open. Cranking the pasta maker or the strainer for making applesauce are also good and they feel so strong and big.
- Putting things into containers (or jars if you can). If you raw pack your cucumbers for pickles or your fruit for canned fruit a toddler can scoop up handfuls and drop them into the canning funnel. You may have to even out the jars a bit but they will learn.
- Carrying things from one worker to another. I bought 40 pounds of strawberries this summer and the children helped me freeze them. I cut out the bruises and removed the stems, Buggle and Mouse sliced, Jack picked up what they had sliced and put it in a bowl and Bull loaded bags. A nice assembly line and Jack’s picking up kept the big children from having to stop slicing to clear their cutting boards. Truly helpful and because he knows to keep his hands away from the knife he only picked up the slices the children had pushed to edge of their boards.
These are just a few of the things that a toddler can do to help in the kitchen. Jack also gets things out of the cupboards for me and helps by stirring things, greasing pans, and of course lots of tasting! Kitchen time is a great time to spend with the children and learn some life skills along the way.