Babies and toddlers in the kitchen? Is that something we crazy parents used to do “back in our day”? Nope! It’s now a growing trend and it looks like it is here to stay. By now, most of us know that the research says kids eat better and are more willing to try new foods when they are engaged in helping pick out and prepare meals with their family.
By now, most of us know that the research says kids eat better and are more willing to try new foods when they are engaged in helping pick out and prepare meals with their family. According to veteran Montessori teacher, Katie Olson, “Cooking encourages creativity, teaches how things change, builds self-confidence, develops fine motor skills, and teaches about other cultures.” She gives her young students the opportunity to cut their own food, bake their own bread, and even to grocery shop.
This subject is very near to my heart because I grew up helping in my dad’s restaurant. At first, I served bread, then I learned food prep skills, made dressings, and plated salads. Eventually, I worked with the pastry chef’s helping prepare foods for catering. By the time I graduated from high school, I was very confident and comfortable in a kitchen and I think it is one of the best gifts my father gave to me.
How to get started with your babies and toddlers in the kitchen.
It starts young! I have my babies in the kitchen with me from birth. First, they are on my chest and back in carriers, feeling the rhythm and routine of my cooking. As soon as they can sit up, I have them in the high chair. They get to explore by touch, the foods that have different textures and smells. Once they start eating, I let them play with and experience by mouth.
Let them try it all!
Override the voice in your head telling you that babies should only have pureed foods. Put aside any assumptions that your baby won’t like spinach, or will hate onions. Let them guide your choices.
If a baby tastes onion for the first time and doesn’t like it, she just won’t put it in her mouth again. The same goes for purees vs. chunks of foods. Some babies show a preference very early on. Don’t tell them that their instincts are wrong by limiting the foods that you think they shouldn’t have. (Of course, there are exceptions for safety. I am not a pediatrician, only a mother with personal experience. There are common foods that babies under 1 should not eat. Please do your research or message me for further information.)
Once your baby is eating, provide him with 2 choices at a time. Make them thoughtful and healthy. Provide a variety of tastes: Bitter, sour, sweet. (save the sweet for last). The more you expose your baby too early on, the more accustomed she will be to different flavors as she gets older.
If giving chunks of food, offer avocado and sweet potato and with some prompting, your baby will choose. Allowing that choice builds trust and confidence.
Becoming a Toddler in the Kitchen
As your little one grows up, it is important to engage their innate interest in helping you in the kitchen. This is the perfect time to offer opportunities to clean! First, we make the mess, then we clean up the mess! Plus, a clean floor invites a toddler to have a floor picnic while you go about your cooking. I will never forget the wonderful times I spent handing blueberries to my 1.5-year-old daughter as she sat at my feet in the kitchen.
Give your baby a damp cloth and the job of scrubbing the front of the oven. Have your toddler sort forks and spoons into the utensil holder. Allow them to put away dish towels, scrub cutting boards, and bring you produce from the refrigerator.
Soon they will graduate to the preschool years and already have a foundation in the kitchen that allows them to blossom in confidence.