10 Ideas to Engage Toddlers in the Kitchen

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Picture credit : The Belly Rules The Mind

It is a very well known fact that toddlers are like a sponge, they literally absorb everything they see and hear. So during this tender age, it is highly recommended that we as parents and teachers use this time to inculcate good habits and healthy lifestyle. It's surprising that even an eighteen month old child who isn't potty trained loves playing with a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. Irrespective of the gender they quite enjoy playing housekeeping. From my personal experience I can definitely vouch that, engaging kids in the kitchen definitely encourages their interest in cooking and healthy eating. For toddlers, kitchen activities are great as they stimulate all their senses. They learn by touching, feeling, tasting, smelling, & seeing, thus making their kitchen experiments memorable and meaningful. Positive and fun interactions with food definitely encourage them to participate more in the kitchen. Today I share with you some ideas that personally worked for me to engage my child in the kitchen.

Before you begin with anything, make sure your kitchen is baby proof. What I mean is, clear off the space of hot liquids, sharp knives, heavy utensils, glassware, cleaners etc. You could even use the dinning table or your child's activity table, if you want to be super safe. Make sue the kids are under supervision. Now let you child explore and enjoy some of the following activities. If you are the kind of parent who doesn't let the kid explore just because of how messy it gets to clean up afterwards, let me tell you these activities are totally worth it and in the long run pay off and turn out to be time well spent.

1. Washing fruits & veggies
Let them wash their own fruit and veggies. In the process talk about the colors, textures & their nutrient values. Explain how the fiber helps us clean our stomach and why it is important. Share one health benefit of that food, associating it with superheros and princesses always helps.
Example - I let my toddler wash an apple or berries. While exploring the textures he often enjoyed squishing the berries. We talked about one health benefit and how fiber from the fruit / vegetable helps us stay away from constipation. He knew about constipation as he saw some friends in school struggle with it. This not only made potty training easier but also made him curious to learn health benefits of different fruits and veggies.

2. Mashing
Oh the kids love this one, especially if they get to do it with their bare hands. They could also use a plastic or a kiddie fork to mash boiled veggies, specially potatoes, yam, avocados.

3. Pouring liquids
Kids love exploring texture and it's good for their motor skills too. Next time you need to add water in your batter or cake mix, take their assistance or assist them. Initially I began with assisting my toddler, eventually to build his confidence I let him pour milk into his cereal bowl. Ofcourse please don't top off the glass. Keep it half empty or half full :) The first time he poured the glass of milk without spilling, he was so excited. The memory is still so fresh in my mind.

4. Stacking
I thought it was too early for this one until, one day while I was stacking, my toddler started staking his spoons and folks and plates and stacking them in his cabinet. Keep their crockery in a place they can access.

5. Stirring ingredients
(Of course at room temperature!!!!) Give them a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl and your will be surprised. I think this skill is inborn. Initially I assisted him letting him know and we spilled ingredients. Over a period of time we worked on the skill and he felt so accomplished about being able to independently finish a task by himself.

6. Using cookie cutters
I probably used them for non baking activities more than I ever baked. This is how I taught him shapes at home. I started off making different seasonal shapes flat breads for him. Circles, squares, trucks, superheros, modes of transportation, alphabets, numbers, Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Diwali, you name it. Eventually I just gave him full size bread slices, crepes, flat breads, omelettes, fruits or vegetables and let him pick his cookie cutter. He loved it. Now he likes to make a fruit zoo theme with the animal cookie cutters.

7. Sprinkling
This one is the easiest. Give them sprinklers and they will love to play with it. They can toss chopped vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, diced fruits, greens or best of all decorate a cake or garnish a healthy pizza.

8. Kneading & rolling dough
Toddlers love play dough right. Get them to make their own. Make it edible or play with it. Give them a roller and a cookie cutter to make different shapes.

9. Gardening
Children are known to be natural gardeners. Last spring he helped sow the seeds of cucumbers and tomatoes. We brought out those toy shovels and diggers and he helped dig. Get a tiny watering pot from the dollar store and watch them water these plants. As they watch the plans grow and ready to yield, they can barely wait to harvest it and eat it. In the process he learned about how caterpillars thrive on plants too.

10. Ask them
Apart from all the above ideas, I think what is most important is, asking the child to do something with you, just like how they ask you to play with them. Repeatedly ask them, eventually they will agree to be a part of the kitchen. Make it fun and engaging, make the kitchen their play ground.