Cooking with kids-Tips and tricks to igniting your toddler’s culinary curiosity without burning down the kitchen

naomi_cookingwithkids[1]Ahhh, cooking with toddlers! It’s the kind of task that most parents greet with resigned enthusiasm or push into the ‘way too painful for all concerned’ category.

And I get that, truly I do. Cooking with my almost-two year old has run the gamut from very good (so cute, so creative, what a wonderful mother I am for bestowing such a formative experience upon my offspring) to the downright awful (so much mess, how did flour get over there? What is that up his nose?), yet still I try to persist, at least a couple of times a month.

Not only does hitting the kitchen provide the perfect rainy-day activity, it also provides a fabulous opportunity for practicing those skills your little one has been working on, either at home or at Kindy – counting, measuring, fine and gross motor skills.

It also provides parents with a crash course in ‘letting go and embracing the moment’ and ‘crisis management’. After a number of failed attempts, here’s how I now approach cooking with my son.

ACCEPT THERE WILL BE MESS
I make a bit of a mess when I cook solo so I can’t really begrudge the fact that a person 27 years my junior struggles to manage a cup full of flour. Embracing the fact that there will likely be a whole lot of leftover ingredients on the bench (and on the floor) instead of manically trying to minimize spills allows the process to be far more relaxed. What I try to do, to minimize total carnage, is pick a corner of the kitchen OR a corner of the dining table in which to get mixing. I usually line the area with a few sheets of butchers’ paper so that anything that misses the bowl can be wrapped up and chucked out after we’re done.

CHOOSE YOUR RECIPE WISELY
Toddlers aren’t so good on the dinner side of things. My son, quite frankly, makes a rubbish salad and his schnitzel crumbing ability leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.
When it comes to the under-four crowd, baking is where it’s at. Not only do cookies, cakes and muffins require minimal equipment, they’re also a lot more forgiving when measurements go a little off track, and the ingredients are unlikely to cause much damage when eaten raw. My son and I have had more success with muffins than anything else we’ve attempted in the kitchen, with these delicious gluten- and sugar-free Banana Crunch Muffins – an absolute fave.

ALLOCATE THE JOBS YOU KNOW THEY CAN DO
If your toddler is anything like mine (boisterous, demanding, convinced they are invincible), they’ll want to get stuck into everything. Melting butter? They’d give it a whirl if they could. Cracking eggs? How hard can it be? The key is to work out what they can manage effectively before you get started. My son loves stirring and playing with the measuring cups. I usually let him take charge of the big mixing bowl and wooden spoon and ‘help’ him measure in the rest of the dry ingredients. He can then go nuts mixing and measuring the contents while it’s all in the one place.

INVEST IN AN ART-SMOCK OR APRON
The kitchen benches can be cleaned relatively easily but the same can’t always be said for the T-shirt/shorts that your toddler is wearing or the skin they may unconsciously coat with various ingredients. Unless you’re planning on throwing them straight in the shower and the clothes in the wash, investing in an apron or a long-sleeved art smock is the way to go. Not only will their clothes stay clean, you’ll only have a pair of hands to wash up at the end, as opposed to a whole toddler body!