It’s never too late, or early, to get your little one into the kitchen and involved in cooking. Taking them around the shops and talking to them about the foods that you are eating as you prepare them, therefore encouraging their interest in eating (great news if your toddler is a fussy eater!).
Below are my top 10 tips for getting little ones involved in the kitchen and engaged with food and cooking!
1) Start them Young – It’s never too early to start getting your baby involved in the kitchen and familiar with the environment. I used to carry my baby in a sling to do the cooking from when he was just 2 weeks old. As he became older and started watching me, I began explaining our actions in the kitchen – ‘mummy is making coffee now’ was a frequently said sentence!
2) Eat as a Family – Babies, toddlers and children all learn by role modelling, which means they will be much more likely to eat their greens and learn good table manners, such as learning how to use a spoon and fork. Let’s lead by example, if we can!
3) Start Simple – Toddlers or babies respond very well to positive reinforcement. Praise them for mastering simple tasks in the kitchen, such as pressing the button on the dishwasher or popping a tea bag into an empty mug.
4) Play with Food – At play time, we love to use wooden fruit models and set up tea parties with soft toys. This is just one example of how babies learn through play and again, it can increase your baby or toddlers familiarity with a wide range of healthy foods.
5) Talk Talk Talk – When I’m with my toddler we not only talk about what he’s eating but the colour of the foods too. Sometimes we even count (for example how many peas he is eating!), which can help encourage toddlers if they’re struggling to eat their greens. Toddlers learn to talk through listening and mimicking their parents’ words and actions.
6) Learning Tower – Otherwise known as a Montessori tower, a learning tower allows your toddler to stand next to you at the worktop. Your toddler is then able to participate in simple tasks such as washing fruit and vegetables, stirring and weighing out ingredients, encouraging learning of food preparation skills.
7) Choices – Toddlers love to exhibit control and what better way to get them involved in the kitchen than to offer them choices when preparing food. In behavioral science, this is often known as ‘nudging’ and can help influence healthy eating decisions. You can offer them the choice between two different cereals, the vegetables to serve with dinner or what to have for dessert. Try to give your toddler 2-3 options to choose from.
8) Baking Jobs – There are so many jobs that you can give your little one; from being in charge of the timer to weighing, measuring and pouring ingredients. You could even give them a small plastic bowl with some basic ingredients to ‘play with’ whilst you make the real thing!
9) Washing Up – From washing hands to doing the washing up, these are skills which are great to instill from the word go and will hopefully make your life a little easier when they’re growing up! Use a washing up bowl on the floor or a learning tower for easy access to warm soapy water.
10) Relax & Have Fun – This is one of my top tips for weaning, as well as creating a positive environment to get little ones involved in the kitchen. From making faces on home-made pizza to colourful rainbow wraps and sandwich fillings, the options really are endless!
By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Registered Dietitian @mummynutrition