This is the third part of a series about cooking and children. Part I: Nine Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids and Part II: How to Cook with a Baby in the House and Cooking with Preschoolers: Distraction or Interaction?
So now that your baby is a little bigger do you feel like a pro? Well, maybe you’re just “a good amateur,” as my mother once described a caterer, and that’s good enough. You’ve probably developed super-hearing to catch the first peep, and can strap your baby in a sling without needing a mirror.
Then the toddler stage hits. Unless you are blessed with one of those complacent, self-sufficient toddlers (they do exist), toddlerhood can be twice as hard as babyhood. Especially when you want to start cooking.
Not only do toddlers sleep less, they crawl, reach and climb. They want to be in the center of everything. Sometimes it feels intrusive, but they have a compelling need both to imitate you and to get hands-on affection and feedback. If you keep this in mind you can use it to your advantage.
Toddlers are also stubborn. Once they have seen you do things in a certain way, they object if you change the routine. So be sure the routine is one you can live with.
Most tips in How to Cook with a Baby in the House apply to toddlers too. Simple meals in discrete steps work best as your child grows.
- Toddlers want to play. Part of cooking with toddlers around is supervising their play while you are working. You will learn how frequently to check on him. Ideally, you’ll have a view of his play area from your workspace.
- Put your toddler to work. Toddlers like to be assigned important tasks, under your supervision of course. Examples include counting out items, pouring from one container to a (much) larger one, sorting, mixing, and tasting. Make sure to give them real things to do, because they catch on quickly to “busy work.”
- Time tasks according to his schedule. If you have to do something you don’t want him around for, wait until he is busy with something else, then do the task quickly. Trying to distract him in advance doesn’t often work.
- Know your limitations. If you are super-efficient and like to get things done as quickly as possible (like me) you’ll need to build up your toddler tolerance slowly.
- Make the environment toddler-friendly. Clear your workspace to prevent accidents and distractions. Remove sharp, hot or breakable items. But you don’t want to keep these things away from your children forever—it’s better to teach how to treat dangerous items with respect, under your supervision.
- Don’t rush. Allow plenty of time for cooking with toddlers, including extra cleanup time. Expect spills and splashes—they’re part of the fun.
- Talk to your child. Explain what you are doing, and why. You’re teaching sequences, safety, conservation, counting and much more—concepts important for cooking and life in general. And she’ll feel equally involved in your activities, which she is.
- Most toddlers have short attention spans, so move quickly between tasks. It’s likely that your child will start to cry or get into something she shouldn’t, so be prepared to set aside the cooking for a bit.
- Involve your child in cleanup. A water-filled sprayer and a rag, a small broom, and a narrow trickle of water with a sponge were favorites of my kids when they were that age.
Above all, make it fun! A toddler who feels good in the kitchen is not that far away from giving a real hand in the kitchen.
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