Allowing and involving children under 3 to help in the kitchen can be a fun but realistically a hard task. Especially when you are trying to get dinner ready in time, your child interfering with your cooking. Asking them to help in your kitchen can be more of a hassle than anything.
Here are a few ideas that might make that time a little bit more enjoyable for you and your child.
1. Allow plenty of time. First time you invite your child in the kitchen to help you in any way make sure you have ample time that you can relax and both of you can do things and enjoy the moment together. It will also involve a lot of practice and repetition for both of you to get the rhythm and have a working partnership. Be patient.
2. Remember things and food items can be placed in as many containers as possible. You can decanter measured ingredients into small bowls for the child to pour into the pot or large bowl. Examples are rice, flour, lentils salt, sugar, grated cheese etc. Things can be decanted via spoon or small tongs, into another container so they are busy while you are doing other things in the kitchen.
3. Place things in the oven/stove as late as possible so your child can mix or put in the pot ingredients. Doing this allows all the ingredients to be placed by the child without fear of them burning. You can later put things in the stove earlier with older children who are a bit more careful.
4. Set up the kitchen in a way that your child can independently wash their hands – towel accessible, soap dispenser- as washing hands can never be overdone and should be a good habit to develop in the kitchen/ food handling practices. Add a stool or step stools that is stable and high enough so that your child can do things on the kitchen bench top.
5. Keep paper towels always handy for any small spills. You can also ask your child to clean up after themselves.
6. Divide cooking ingredients into pouring portions if possible using jugs and small saucers.
7. Use blunt table knives for use to allow your child to cut until their coordination is better. You can use those to cut mushrooms, even though it is not needed in the recipe. It can help keep your child busy while you do some cooking that they are unable to help with.
8. Kitchen gadgets can be helpful in getting children to independently help in the kitchen. Gadgets such as apple cutters, egg slicers, apple peelers, easy to use salad dryers, spreaders, pasta makers, cling wrap cutters, etc.
9. Small bowls and containers are great for helping with independence, to be carried with 2 hands. No need to use plastic.
10. Toddlers like spice shakers. For example make scrambled eggs made in a large bowl. Making scrambled eggs does not need precise measurements (at least I don’t!) so spice shakers are perfect to add spices. See Scrambled Eggs in Montessori Activities.
11. If you think the coordination is good enough teach them to peel carrots or better cucumbers as they can see where they have peeled. See vegetable peeling in Montessori Activities.
12. Teach your child to set the table. You can get them to take a plate/ utensil from the kitchen one plate at a time, or use a basket to set out utensils. You can place the plates and utensils on the table for them to set on each place. Make sure they can at least reach the table.
13. Aprons can be introduced to signal the start of the activity, not just for keeping clothes tidy.
14.When you are chopping vegetables, you can involve your child by getting them to place the cut vegetable into a bowl/colander. Raw carrots and ham can be eaten while they are helping though.
15. Get them to wash the vegetables in a colander placed in the sink. Like wash some lettuce and let the child tear them into smaller pieces when making a salad.
16. Try to prepare the ingredients and materials ahead of time so that the activity can run more smoothly. You can pre measure the ingredients and set it in small bowls in order of being used from left to right.
17. Most importantly recognize how they have helped as part of the dinner conversation.
18. Watch the child closely when directly dealing with uncooked food. It can be quickly eaten.
19. LET GO! of the perfection that you are accustomed to when cooking. Spills will happen. If the recipe is not followed in the strictest manner it is ok, the point of the exercise is that process and enjoyment of the children. For this reason do try to find recipes that require most of the ingredients placed in one bowl.
20. Be prepared for mess.
Any suggestions for simple recipes that you have tried and are your favourites with your children are welcome.