How To Cook with a Toddler in the House

toddler getting into a drawer in the kitchenThis 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

You may also enjoy:

9 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids

10 Kid-Friendly Foods Using Leftovers

Should Toddlers Eat Dessert?

Photo credit: madgerly


  1. This is a real exercise in patience. The other day, my 2-y-o insisted on peeling a carrot. It took her 1/2 an hour to peel 1/2 a carrot, letting me get my work done. It’s not a common occurrence though.

  2. Can the next post include cooking with a toddler and a pre-schooler. Like, how do you deal with two little kids fighting over the same chair/spot/task right next to ima in your tiny little kitchen?

    • Nasch, I don’t know that I can write a post to cover every family situation. . . 🙂 I think that is more parenting than cooking at any rate.

  3. Ms. Krieger says

    How did you teach your 2yo to use the vegetable peeler? My daughter – who just turned 2 a week ago, so is maybe quite a bit younger than yours – cannot quite grok the required angle of the peeler. She moves it across the carrot – and sometimes in other dimensions, up, down, etc. – but never gets a ‘peel’, if you know what I mean. Will it just take time?

    She also tries to break eggs but is far too gentle. We’re working on that one.

    Loves loves loves to pour stuff from one container to another, though.

  4. Just want to agree with this great post – I let my kids participate in the kitchen when they were very young, and they have all grown into real helpers who love to cook!

  5. My mother had us peeling hard-boiled eggs, standing on a chair and ‘helping’ while baking (pouring the measured stuff into the bowl, holding (with Mom) the mixer, etc.), cutting up peeled cucumbers with a plastic knife, etc., from the time we were toddlers. Each of us was baking on our own (except for the dangerous oven part) from the time we were about six. We have all thanked her once we reached adulthood for making sure we were never afraid of the kitchen – upon leaving her house for college, none of us was too intimidated to try things, and all of us turned into decent cooks once we had to.

  6. After reading this post, I realized that I don’t think I have ever cooked with my toddler! He is often in the kitchen with me, but is quite content to play with the magnets on the fridge, or to rearrange my dish towels, etc. Sometimes he “sweeps” my floor, but I haven’t included him in the creative process. Something about how I’m always using a sharp knife or food processor has previously deterred me, but now I’m inspired to include him more!

  7. For my toddler’s second birthday, I planned to make him a brownie cake. I let him help, and it was GREAT! I pulled a chair up to the counter and measured out the flour, sugar, etc., and let him pour them in the bowl. He even helped me mix them! It was great I thought he would enjoy decorating them took (with sprinkles and frosting), but he just wanted to eat the brownie cake. 🙂

    Thanks for giving me the motivation and ideas to have this great experience with him! I’ll keep looking for ways to include him.

  8. That’s supposed to read “decorating them, too.” not “took.” hehe


  1. […] On Cooking Manager, a series on cooking with children including babies and toddlers. […]

  2. […] Part II: How to Cook with a Toddler in the House […]

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