In my household growing up, we knew it was dinner time when the fire alarm went off. My brothers occasionally hide the hamburger that was thawing on the counter because they were sick of Hamburger Helper. And I set the microwave on fire the first time I was home alone. We were not a family of cooks.
In my husband’s household growing up, at the beginning of the month, his mother planned out each night’s dinner for the whole month. Their kitchen was filled with fancy kitchen gadgets that were used on a nightly basis. And in High School, my husband cooked dinner 2-3 times a week. By dinner, I mean, actual family handed down recipes that take 1-2 hours to make from scratch such as homemade spaghetti sauce. We’re not talking Hamburger Helper here.
My husband said he appreciated his mother teaching him how to cook because he was spoiled with great meals growing up and it wasn’t a give-in that a future spouse would know how to cook. And she didn’t. Besides being essential for feeding yourself in your adult life, learning to cook has many benefits, especially for children. Children learn concentration, following directions, fine motor skills, math, reading, science, and healthy eating habits. The best part of teaching toddlers cooking is that you don’t have to be a great cook to do it. Don’t believe me? Look at me, one who could burn cereal, has been cooking with Miss Monster for a year and a half now. Below are 6 simple recipes that my 12-18 month old can fully participate in cooking and 6 tips for to stay sane while cooking with toddlers. .
Recipes for cooking with 12-18 month olds
The hardest part for me when cooking with Miss Monster was trying to find recipes to do. Before 18 months, there is a real limit on what a toddler is capable of doing in the kitchen. I wanted recipes that she could be involved in for the whole process. I also thought I needed to introduce new recipes each week. You don’t, and actually, its better not to. Let them perfect the skills they need in just a few recipes before trying to introduce more. The main skills I want my 12-18 month old to practice are: (1) cracking eggs, (2) stirring, (3) measuring, (4) pouring, and (5) kitchen safety when working with the stove and oven. These recipes allow my toddlers to practice all five skills.
- Scrambled Eggs
I cook scrambled eggs once a week, every Sunday with my children. It’s great because it lets them focus on cracking the egg over and over again. Between the three of us, we need six eggs. When first introducing this activity to your one year old, you may have to guide his/her hand the first time so s/he understand how hard s/he must strike the egg to get a crack. Toddlers also learn about stirring with a whisk and using a measuring cup to add milk. Scrambled eggs is a great first recipe for toddlers to learn about the stove. They are able to be up close to the pan and stir the cooking eggs. They can feel the heat but the frying pan has such a low wall that they don’t need to keep their arms high to avoid touching the pan. My daughters also love adding cheese right before the eggs are done because they can steal a few handfuls from the bag.
Side story: At 14 months old, Miss Monster loved to make scrambled eggs. One day, we were at Grandma’s house and Grandma pulled out an egg to crack. Miss Monster reached for the egg, but Grandma cracked it herself, unaware of Miss Monster’s intention or desire. Instantly, Miss Monster clenched both her fists, burrowed her frow, and gave the most angry, frustrated growl. It was the first time I ever saw her angry and she was letting Grandma know she was unhappy about not being able to crack the egg.
I cook pancakes once a week, every Wednesday with my children. Our Bisquick recipe requires eggs to be cracked, the flour mixture to be measured, and milk to be added. A 12-18 month old can attempt to measure out the flour, and then I show them how to level it off with a knife to get the exact amount. My young toddler can whisk the mixture together, but usually needs me to get it smooth and ready. At the stove, I show her how to measure batter and pour it on to the pan. I usually offer to let her try, guiding her hand if needed. If making blueberry pancakes, I let her drop the blueberries on. I do all the flipping, with her watching.
Side story: Miss Monster has been making pancakes for 18 months now and can do the whole process herself now, including pouring the batter on and flipping the pancakes herself.
- Banana Bread
I like banana bread because it uses those really black bananas that are just about needing to be thrown away. The bananas are always so soft that my 12-18 month old can still mash them up without needing any assistance. With banana bread there are lots of ingredients to be added and stirred. Since you don't use a whisk, it introduces the need for additional cooking utensils for similar tasks. We always add raisins to our banana bread, which are fun to steal when adding them to the mixture. Banana Bread is an easy recipe and introduces the oven. My daughter's enjoy looking in on their creation throughout the cooking process.
Here is the Recipe for Banana Bread that I use: Betty Crocker Banana Bread
Muffins are another easy oven recipe that I use with my 12-18 month old. It involves lots of measuring of different ingredients, lots of stirring, and scooping batter to put it into the muffin tins. We add frozen blueberries or raspberries to our muffins. It's a tradition for the girls to add one blueberry to the batter and one blueberry to their mouth, and so on and so forth. Notice a pattern in these stories? While I tried at first to institute a no-eating until the end policy, I have failed so far. As their will power increases, I will try again.
Here is the Recipe for Muffins that I use: Betty Crocker's Blueberry Muffins
- Macaroni and Cheese
Homemade stove top macaroni and cheese is actually fairly easy to make and takes the almost the same amount of time to make as Kraft. While measuring ingredients takes a few minutes longer, you get the added bonus of no artificial flavors or coloring or preservative. For full disclosure, I don't always make homemade mac n cheese, but I have the goal of making it at least 25% of the time, and maybe increasing from there.
Miss Monster has discovered she LOVES peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As such, we are going through jam at a rapid pace. I made 8 jars of pint sized jars of jam two years ago, which ran out earlier this year. I made another 8 jars in early June with the girls and in three weeks, we used three whole jars. So, we've been making and will continue to make lots of jam this summer. It's actually really easy to make and preserve. My mother-in-law lends me her hot water bath to seal the jars, but if you don't have access to one, you can purchase one on Amazon or do freezer jam, if you have the freezer space. My daughter's love the whole process. They love picking the berries fresh from the farm. They LOVE mashing the berries. Finally, they enjoy adding the sugar over the stove and stirring, watching the liquid get thicker as it cooks. If you have never made jam before, I highly recommend giving it a try. I was shocked the first time I made it at how easy it was and how much my toddlers enjoyed jamming with me!
Tips For Cooking With Toddlers
- Pre-measure Ingredients
In my experience, toddlers from 12-18 months old struggle with scooping ingredients and filling up the measuring cup properly. When baking, it's important to exact ingredients so I found it easier to pre-measure my ingredients and put them into separate containers (such as empty butter dishes) before bringing my toddler over to participate. This way, I could provide the correct dish to my toddler and she could focus on the difficult task of just dumping it into the bowl. At 18 months, I transition my toddler to scooping ingredients. Now that I have two toddlers, my two year old scoops and levels off the ingredients with a knife, dumps it into the butter dish, and then passes it to my 14 month old who dumps it into the mixing bowl. Perfect teamwork.
- Different Container for Eggs
Cracking eggs is difficult and you can expect to get some shell dropped in. I always use a different bowl, one egg at at a time, so that it's easier to remove the shell before adding it to the other ingredients. For my 12-18 month old, I always let them whisk the egg before combining with the other ingredients too. My daughter's eyes lit up when they see the yoke break. Finally, I pick a bowl with a sharp top so that it's easier to crack the egg on, such as a Tupperware bowl (see pancake picture above).
- Wet Wipes
When working with eggs, expect that your toddler will get eggs on their hands and then want to put their hands in their mouth. When it was just Miss Monster, I taught her that we always wash our hands after touching raw eggs. With two young toddlers, going to the sink was just not possible. I realized that keeping wet wipes near by, I can quickly wipe away raw egg that gets on hands or the table.
- Learning Tower
Keeping toddlers safe while learning how to cook is important. My children work in their learning tower, which lifts them to the appropriate height to work at the counter, table, and stove with me. By being surrounded in their tower, I do not have to worry about falling, which can happen when they are concentrating on a cooking task so intently that they misstep. I learned how to make our learning tower using this blog: Happy Grey Lucky. Or you can purchase one on Amazon using my affiliate link below (which does not add any additional cost to you but provides me with a small commission).
- Proper Sized Tools
I see a huge difference when one of my daughter's try to use my kitchen tool verses their own kitchen tools. Having a whisk that is their size helps them be able to properly stir batter. Having a spatula their size helps them to have better spacial awareness when stirring eggs on the stove, which prevents accidentally touching the pot with their wrist. My husband has fancy non-stick pans, which cannot have any metal used in them, so I was ecstatic when I found these child sized cooking tools (rather than play kitchen toys).
- Patience & Plan for Mess
There is no getting around it, you will need patience when cooking with toddlers. Always plan for a recipe to take double the amount of time it would if you did it alone. Likewise, it will not be a clean endeavor you partake in. While the more you cook, the easier or cleaner it will become, it takes time. But the skills toddlers learn while cooking and the memories you are creating with your kids are more than worth it.
Hope you enjoyed these insights on cooking with Toddlers! Comment below with some of your favorite recipes to make with very young children!