This post contains affiliate links. This means that I make a small commission off of purchases made through my links at no extra cost to you. Links are provided for your convenience. All opinions are my own.
I always have big dreams of cooking in the kitchen with my kiddos on a regular basis, but then we get into the process and I stress out and remember why I don’t do it more often. Two preschoolers in the kitchen requires a lot of patience and that’s just not something that I’m good at! I have been inspired by the Family Routines Course from Pulling Curls however, and I’m making a point to involve my kids in dinner prep or baking a treat with me at least once a week. I’d highly suggest checking out her course to help you create better routines in your home, including teaching your kids kitchen skills that will be valuable for their entire life. But I also wanted to share some things that I’ve done at home to make kitchen experiences with my kids more enjoyable for me, and less chaotic, in theory.
Tips for Staying Sane While Cooking with Toddlers
Use a large surface
The first few times I cooked with my kids, I made the mistake of setting up on a smaller counter space, where our mixer sits. It was a lot more hectic and hard for both kids to participate. Now we set everything up on our island, with one kid on each side, so they’re both next to the mixer or whatever I’m doing and can help out.
Have height appropriate places for kids to stand
One of the first times my oldest helped in the kitchen making cookies, we had a slip off the chair which resulted in tears and the end of him helping. Since that time, I make sure that the surface they’re standing on is height appropriate and placed in a position that is safe for them, where they won’t fall off. I love the kitchen towers for kids that you can find on Amazon. They have sides on them so their isn’t a risk of kids falling, especially young ones, and they're the perfect height for a variety of tasks that kids could help with.
Let them dump ingredients into the bowl
Half the fun of baking or cooking is putting all of the ingredients into the dish you’re mixing them in! I sometimes hesitate to have my kids put ingredients in because of the potential mess. When I let the kids dump every ingredient, they love the process so much more. I’ll often put messy ingredients into a bigger measuring cup so there’s space and it doesn’t spill out as much when they go to pour them into the mixing bowl.
Divide ingredients in half
My kids tend to fight over who gets to pour which ingredient. Instead of having a fight, I split each ingredient’s measurement in half and they each get to pour some in. Then they take turns “going first” for each ingredient. If you have more than two kids helping you, your math might get a little more complicated, but it’'s a simple trick that has really helped me.
Don’t be afraid of messes
The mess is what keeps me from letting my kids help more often in the kitchen. It stresses me out and causes my anxiety to heighten sometimes. When I start the process with the mindset that there will be a mess and it will be ok, everything is more fun! The kids are always willing to help me clean up at the end of it all, and not focusing on keeping things spic and span allows us all to enjoy the process more. And if we’re being honest, I make a mess when I’m cooking on my own, so I shouldn’t have such high expectations for my little ones.
Keep the recipe simple
Little kids have a short attention span, they say five minutes for every year old they are. Expecting them to stand and participate in an hour of meal prep or cooking isn’t a reasonable expectation. When I bake with my kids, we make something simple like cake mix cookies or nachos. I’ve also involved them in small portions of meal prep, or let them go off and play and come back to help me when they’re ready.
Involve them in the shopping
Half of the fun of making the food sometimes is shopping for different ingredients. Make a special trip to the grocery store just for the things you’ll need to make your meal or your dessert. Let your kids help you make decisions on the flavor of cookies you’re going to make, or the vegetables you’ll put in your meal. The more involved they are, the more fun they’ll have.
Watch the oven, etc. as it cooks
I remember as a kid, turning the light on the oven and watching as things baked. It’s fun to see how bread rises and cookie dough expands. And it’s a great way to keep kids occupied for a few extra minutes!
Make sure everyone knows they helped
When you sit down to eat your meal or enjoy the treat you made, make sure you let everyone know that your kids were involved. Kids love being acknowledged for the things that they’ve done, and it’s just one more simple way that you can show them you care.
This is probably the biggest tip I’d give you and one of the hardest things for me to do. Realize that whatever you’re making is going to take extra time than normal. Be willing to teach and let your kids enjoy every moment of helping you. This isn’t about getting stuff done, it’s about spending quality time with your little ones and teaching them skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
I hope you’ll involve your kids in kitchen on a more regular basis! It’s my new goal and I make sure to plan one snack or treat and one meal each week that they can join me in. The next thing I want to try to do is get them to help make their lunch and/or breakfast each day. The more involved kids are in making the meals that they are going to eat, the more likely they are to eat them.