Is your preschooler always curious about what and how you are cooking? Does he suddenly need attention and attaches to your leg as soon as you enter the kitchen? Or maybe she insists on dragging every single can out of the pantry and dumping quinoa on the floor? These scenarios play out daily in my house. My solution? Put them to work!
You can help your kids start young and master simple cooking tasks. Assign these age-appropriate tasks and your child will stay excited and entertained while you are cooking. They will build valuable skills that will have them acting as your little sous chef before you know it!
(Be forewarned, however, that you will need to allow extra time for prep AND cleanup when cooking with your new helper.)
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Finding these knives and this herb stripper have been game changers with our kitchen helper situation. With the safe nylon knives, Vivian can chop veggies for dinner prep, slice her own fruit, or chop ingredients for a salad. And it is so easy for her to pick some herbs from our herb planters to run through the herb stripper to get them ready to use for our recipe.
I can also hand her a butter knife to cut up a waffle or pancake in the mornings. Or to spread some butter, jelly, or peanut butter on toast. You can also go over recipe ingredient lists with your kids and have them help find all the components in the refrigerator or pantry. And getting to crack an egg is enough to make a kid’s day!
I love that these tasks is so great for fine motor skills as well.
Rinsing fruits and vegetables is a task kids can help with from a very early age. Grab a stool, (ours is from Ikea) fill up a large bowl or one side of a double sink, and let them dunk everything in, scrub it if needed, and place it on a drying mat. Rinsing out containers or cans for recycling is a fun activity as well. It seems simple and mundane for us, but it is so fun for little kids!
Washing and Cleaning
Washing and cleaning is another easy thing to incorporate into a preschooler’s helper routine. For some reason, Vivian LOVES scrubbing the kitchen sink. I am happy to pass the torch on that chore considering she actually does a decent job and it occupies her for a good 10-15 minutes.
She will also (attempt to) scrub any dishes I place in the sink or help load the dishwasher. I can supply her with a wet towel to clean up spills on the floor or the kitchen table and she has her very own dustpan and brush set to tackle the crumbs.
Measuring is a favorite around our kitchen! Vivian feels like such a big girl doing it and I like to think it provides some sort of math lesson as I repeat the proportions. It is so easy to teach kids how to use measuring cups and spoons to add in flour, spices, sugar, water, oil, or butter.
Having your mini helper mix and stir things for you can be a little messy sometimes, but again, kids love it. Vivian has been mixing ingredients in a mixing bowl from a young age and has recently been trusted to stir things on the stove. She has learned (the hard way, unfortunately) not to touch the stove or pots and pans while I am cooking.
Assembling ingredients is another great skill that can be assigned to toddlers and mastered by preschoolers. Have your kids sprinkle cheese on top of a casserole, add toppings to a salad, put brown sugar or raisins on their oatmeal, or dot sauce on your meals. You can control the mess with this task by portioning out the toppings and ingredients so you don’t end up with an entire jar of olives on top of your pizza.
Why is pushing buttons so fun for kids? There are so many fun buttons, knobs, and controls for kids to touch in the kitchen. It is important to have clear rules about which buttons they can push though. Vivian knows not to touch buttons on the dishwasher, the stove, oven, or microwave. Our small appliances, however, are usually put out of reach in the cabinets. Have your kids press start on the food processor, turn the crank on a spiralizer, choose the setting on the mixer, start the crock pot, or squeeze the garlic press.
Setting the table was one of our chores growing up and is such an easy mess-free way for kiddos to help out at mealtime. Hand children napkins to place at each chair and have them work up to adding silverware, plates, and then glasses. They could even help assemble a centerpiece if you are entertaining.
I try to think ahead when meal planning and come up with a couple of things she can help with at each meal. I also make sure we are able to start prep by 4 or so when she is helping so that we don’t end up eating dinner 5 minutes before bedtime. It takes a lot of patience, plenty of planning ahead, and some extra time to have a tiny helper in the kitchen. But it always ends up being more fun than I think!
I hope this has given you some new ideas to involve your little ones with cooking!