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Teaching a toddler to cook - any suggestions?

My 2 1/2 year old son is dying to get into the kitchen and cook with me. I want him to learn but he's very limited in what he can do. For starters - no knives! I have let him stir a bit and put muffin liner papers into muffin tins. I want to help him move to the next step but I'm not sure what would be a good project for him. He's smart but is hopeless about following directions - he just does his own thing.

When I was a child my mother let us help do things like roll snickerdoodle dough in the cinnamon sugar. I'm a bit reluctant to do that with him since I'm sure he'll eat the dough and I don't want the eggs to make him sick.

Do any other parents have good ideas? Ideally I'd like him to be able to see the finished project soon enough that he'll know it was what he made. And I don't want to do things like cinnamon toast where it isn't 'real' cooking. I'd like him to really get a chance to learn.

Or - am I crazy to start this when he's so little?

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  1. I don't think you're crazy to encourage him! May he'll grow up to be a famous chef!

    Can he do assembly if you gave him all of the ingredients?

    ...he could roll lavash sandwiches for you if you applied the spread...

    ...he could dress a pizza

    ...he could assemble tacos and burritos?

    Or, does that not count as cooking?

    ~TDQ

    3 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      That would count to me! I think he could assemble as long as I had enough extra ingredients to cover for what landed on the floor. Your suggestions are good because all the ingredients are cooked or safe raw foods - I wouldn't trust him with raw meat.

      1. re: lupaglupa

        I think it's great... I love that my kids want to be involved in preparing the food, not just content w/ eating it. They need to learn to crawl before they can walk, so simple tasks are probably where you want him to start. Teach him how to spread w/ a plastic knife... peanutbutter on bread, butter on toast, etc. Also, how about making a salad... he can tear the leaves and toss in the veggies. Pour on the dressing and use the goofy salad fork and spoon to toss. Mashing potatoes or egg yolks for deviled eggs... the sky is the limit. The only question is will you have the patience to clean up the inevitable mess! That's my only struggle... good luck!

      2. re: The Dairy Queen

        At my toddler's daycare they made english muffin pizzas. Pita pizza can actually be pretty tasty too.
        Shortbread cookies - no eggs.
        Haystacks and similar type recipes where you basically melt something like chocolate or marshmallows and then use it as a binder for cereal, nuts, raisins.

        One more... playdough! Not very tasty, but fun.

      3. For most people who aren't professional cooks, assembly is definately part of cooking. At his age having him help add premeasured ingredients to the bowl or assembling toppings on pizza and other similar stuff is absolutely appropriate. As his skills improve, you can add to what he does (like measuring the sugar).

        Congratulations on having a child interested in cooking and for wanting to teach him!

        1. My daughter, almost 3, is a total chowhound (eats everything!) and lately has been wanting to "help" me cook. I, too, don't want to discourage her, but I also don't want her standing reaching up for the stove when I turn my back -- which she has tried to do.

          Not really any great suggestions here, but when I'm making something involving measuring cups (or even spoons), I usually measure out the ingredient and let her pour it in and stir. I also let her do some transferring of things from one bowl to another, sometimes even when it's not necessary, but it keeps her busy!

          Her birthday is in October and I looked into having a cooking party, but most places start those parties for 4 year olds and up. If she's still into it next year, then maybe we'll do that.

          2 Replies
          1. re: valerie

            valerie, I had just attended a little chefs' party with my daughter and according to their website, this place takes kids from 2 and up. Hopefully, this place is near your neighborhood.

            http://www.littlechefs.com/

            1. re: wench31

              We live in Westchester, so oh well! But thanks!

          2. I have the fondest memories with my grandparents (my brother and I both of doing the following) who used to babysit us when our parents worked; my parents were into food and included us from a small age:
            ~making homemade ravioli (if you are not a pasta maker person, use wonton wrappers or bought fresh noodles)
            ~making lasagna
            ~cookies (rolled and with plastic cookie cutter)
            ~rolling dough of all sorts
            ~rolling mini (really mini) meatballs for baked pasta dishes
            ~making small loaves of bread (little buns)
            ~stirring anything
            ~getting to hold the casing as sausages were stuffed, stuffing jars of peeled tomatoes, cranking the handle on the tomato pureeer, cranking the handle for pasta dough (that seemed like magic!)
            ~peeling raw shrimp
            ~picking veg and fruit from a garden, or going to a local farm to pick and making something with it when we got home (to get that garden to table freshness idea - it worked!)
            I think why this has been so engraved into our memories because it was sensory experiential; everything they say about children learning, says that the more the senses are involved, the more they will retain it. So, what I am leading into is that at the end of our "experience" or "cooking/baking" time or when we lost interest, we would always eat what we had been involved with immediately, even if it was just before we had a meal, even for a taste. Cases in point: always ate a tomato, washed from a jug of water we brought from home and dried with a tea towel, with a sprinkling of salt on the ride home from the farm; we were always given some pasta dough to cut "stracci" (rags) of noodles from a ravioli cutter - it made them fancy too , they were cooked immediately and served with some butter, pepper and freshly grated Parm Regg; tasted cookies out of the oven; made a one person serving of lasagna for ourselves and ate that for dinner.
            Can you tell I have an emotional attachment to food?

            6 Replies
            1. re: itryalot

              Don't we all have an emotional attachment to food?!

              We have a large vegetable garden and my son 'helps' pick every night. He would eat a bushel of cherry tomatoes if I let him. I definitely think seeing the vegetables in the garden encourages him to eat them. He is also an amazing sheller of English peas - those little fngers are the perfect size for the task!

              I really like the idea of letting him turn the crank of the Mouli grater - he now uses it for parmesan on his pasta - he would love using it for cooking. Shaping ravioli and dumplings would probably work too.

              1. re: lupaglupa

                my now 4 1/2 year old loves to help too. her 1 year old brother will be the same.

                for now my daughter cracks eggs, stirs, sifts flour/sugar (she LOVES this), sprinkles in cheese, nuts, etc. and does a lot of adding pre-cut (by me) ingredients to a mixing bowl or a pan when i tell her it's time. a good stool is very helpful!
                she has picked tomatoes and helps me pick herbs (all i have room to grow in my VERY shady yard). she will shell peas and edamame - although she eats all of that!
                and she loves to set the table now (melamine is fabulous!) because it's become all part of "helping mommy cook". and of course we deorate cookies/cupcakes etc whenever there's an excuse to bake them. :)

                have fun.

                1. re: AMFM

                  Stool is a necessity; I would say those two step ones with the handle in front so they can lean on it. Plus, we loved when we got to wear adult sized aprons.

                2. re: lupaglupa

                  I was going to say anything with a handle to turn is fun for a kid. We had a "saladmaster" grater and it was fun to turn the handle and see the pile of carrots or whatever growing below the spout. A food mill might be fun too.

                  1. re: WCchopper

                    I don't have a food mill and somehow I think the mandolin is a bad idea! I'll have to keep an eye out at garage sales.

                    1. re: lupaglupa

                      I know what you mean. It wasn't an actual mondoline and it had a giant metal finger guard. So it wasn't as lethal as a mandoline. I just remember liking the crank turning. We also used a "grinder" of some kind to make tomato sauce. Fun Fun!

              2. Check out Pretend Soup and Salad People, two excellent cookbooks for kids.

                1 Reply
                1. re: MiriamWoodstock

                  I second the suggestion of these books. My son is 5 and has had Pretend Soup since he was 3 or so and loves it. Real cooking. Each recipe is given 2x, once in the usual fashion for the adult and once with pictures so kids who can't read can "read" the recipe. My son loves making the popovers.