Involving your little one in food preparation has so many wide-ranging benefits and may not be as challenging as you think.
Taking part in preparing meals is not only about cooking .... think about everything you do to put food on the table; from planning and shopping all the way through to setting the table, serving the food and even clearing away afterwards. Your little one can be involved in all of these activities as well as the actual preparation of the food itself and the developmental benefits are amazing!
What your little one learns by helping out in the kitchen....
Personal, Social and Emotional Development
We all know how our self-esteem soars when someone lets us know our actions have been helpful to them and your little one is no different; by getting them to team up with you in the kitchen you are giving them the message that they are valued.
They will also learn, by being invited to handle some items of equipment they would not be able to play with on their own, that some things require particular care and a change in behaviour. For example, you will explain to your child that throwing a fork could hurt someone else or touching something from the oven will burn them. In this way they will begin to develop self-regulation and understand that they have a responsibility to adapt their behaviour in different situations.
Language and Communication
Following your guidance as you explain how to help will support your little one to develop listening skills. They are more likely to want to listen to you when they are doing something exciting and challenging. The more they listen, the more speech sounds they are absorbing which will support their developing speech as well as preparing them for later phonics awareness.
There are so many opportunities to extend your little one's vocabulary in cooking. They will hear a lot of new 'action' words in context (such as 'mix', 'cut', 'squash', spread' ...) which will encourage them to begin joining words into phrases. Then there are all the names for foods and equipment to learn as well as the descriptive language you might introduce them to such as 'sticky', 'soft', 'juicy', 'hot' etc.
As a result, your little one's 'receptive language' or understanding will receive a big boost too. They will be learning how to follow simple instructions by listening to you and responding to your gestures, such as 'put the flour in the bowl' as well as growing an understanding of simple questions such as 'where is the egg?'.
Peeling a satsuma or a banana refines fine motor strength
Pouring milk from a small jug onto their cereal helps them build control of the muscles of the hands, wrists and arms
Chopping or slicing soft fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, bananas, mushrooms etc) develops hand-eye coordination
Scrubbing vegetables encourages experimenting with different grips
Beating eggs supports your little one's developing balance and core strength as well as regulating movement
Carrying heavy bowls, large baking trays etc helps with core strength
Kneading dough exercises the fingers in preparation for using tools and equipment
Learning how to clear up, wash their hands and other hygiene measures will introduce your little one to the idea of the need to keep ourselves and others safe and well.
Measuring ingredients for recipes is a great way to introduce the concept of quantity. If you use cups or spoonfuls rather than scales it is a clearer. simpler way for your little one to see and compare amounts of ingredients.
They will hear simple number language as you count the spoonfuls being added to mixtures; try if possible, to say one number name at the exact time they tip the spoonful in so they attach that name to the action.
Cooking, setting the table, selecting and using equipment are all good ways to introduce the language of size; at this age keeping it as simple as 'big' and 'small' will be all that is needed to get your little one thinking and comparing.
When your little one sees the cooking process from start to finish you are letting them discover how materials change when we do things to them. Instead of food mysteriously arriving on their plate, they will learn that a runny white and wobbly
yellow inside of an egg changes to a creamy yellow goo when whisked and then a pale yellow solid when heated in a pan. First hand experiences such as this encourages a 'what if?' attitude, so your little one becomes more curious to explore their world.
Everyday ways your little one can help in the kitchen ...
Using cookie cutters
Scooping cereal out of box
Pouring milk or water from jug
Peeling fruit, especially bananas and satsumas
Washing fruit/veg – scrub potatoes/carrots etc, peel carrot
Chopping fruit/veg – banana, cucumber, strawberries, mango, tomato
Spreading topping on crackers/bread
Squeezing orange juice
Setting the table
Clearing the dishes
Loading the dishwasher
Washing own snack cup/plate
Helping to add ingredients
Stirring, hand whisking, sieving
Cleaning up after cooking; wiping, tidying and sweeping
Try these simple recipes ...
Your little one can have a go at everything in these recipes except for those underlined which should be done by an adult.
1 English Muffin (the bread kind, not the cake!)
Cheese - whatever you like
Tomato sauce/pizza sauce
Ripe tomato and/or mushrooms
Preheat oven to 180 deg c
Split the muffin into two
Spread tomato sauce onto each muffin half using a round ended knife or spoon
Sprinkle grated cheese on top of each
Chop or slice the tomato/mushroom using a round ended knife
Arrange toppings on each muffin
Bake for 8-10 minutes