My mommy friends and I are always talking about food. Specifically, the food our toddlers eat and refuse to eat. Aside from the obvious frustration and disbelief you experience as you watch each item of your lovingly prepared meal fly through the air, the feeling of fear may also begin to clutch your heart.
You think about how much energy your little tyke expended throughout the day and how their little bodies need nutrients to grow and develop healthily. Do not despair, parents, there is a perfect solution that both you and your fussy eater will love! You are going to teach your toddler how to cook!
Step One: Create a Plan
I love a good plan and despite how it may seem, toddlers love a plan, too. This is the stage where you build excitement about the magic that is soon to take place in your very own kitchen. You may have a family book of recipes or a fabulous Pinterest board to pull from, and these are great places to start.
You can also show your recipe book or favorite foodie magazine to your toddler and ask them to help you find ideas. I love doing this because it breaks up the monotony of cooking the same old things over and over again. Plus, if your fussy eater loves the picture, she will probably love eating the real life version even more.
Once you have your recipes chosen, it is time to head to the grocery store. Check out these tips for a successful, tantrum-free shopping trip. Explain that you are going to be getting the items you will need to cook a meal together. The grocery store can be a miraculous place filled with all kinds of sights and sounds that may delight or conversely, overwhelm your little one.
Once we arrive, I put her to work. You can give your fussy eater jobs like locating certain items, counting pieces of produce, and crossing items off the list. These tasks not only make your child feel useful, but you can also build their vocabulary by asking for things like a “red apple” or the “green grapes” or the “big, blue box.” I also encourage my daughter to touch the items we select and smell them. It becomes like a game, but you are also being productive.
Step Two: Gather Your Supplies
After you’ve successfully amassed all of your groceries, it’s time to gather all of your necessary supplies and explain how each tool works before you begin. Not only does this activity continue building your toddler’s vocabulary, but it’s also a great time to have your safety talks.
It’s important that your toddler understands that the things you use in the kitchen are tools, not toys. Role-playing ahead of time with pretend cooking tools is a great way to introduce this concept to your little fussy eater.
Take the time to explain which items are sharp, heavy, and/or fragile. You may deem certain tools “off limits” that only mommy or daddy can use, but also point out which tools are just for your toddler. Spend a good deal of time talking about the stove top and the oven, as well. You may decide that these appliances are on the “off limits” list.
My daughter is incredibly curious and rather than constantly trying to prevent her proximity to the stove and oven, I taught her how I use them safely. To illustrate how these appliances can become very hot and harmful, I guided her hand at a safe distance and allowed her to feel the heat.
I explained to her that the knobs on the stove are just for mommy and daddy and that I keep them in the locked position when not in use. I have found that my daughter is so grateful to be included in the cooking process that following my very strict rules has not been an issue.
Last, but not least, every good cook must maintain cleanliness! Proper hand washing is key and to ensure the correct amount of scrubbing time, we sing a song like “Happy Birthday” or the “Alphabet Song” while we wash.
I like to have all of our tools and groceries out and ready to use, in the order we will use them, to keep the process organized, but I also let my daughter know that
Step Three: Cook!
Now it’s time for your fussy eater to cook! Yes, your toddler, not you! You may have to model how to do certain tasks and give instructions, but let your fussy eater do the majority of the work. Those little prodigies on Master Chef Junior had to start somewhere! Check out my list of recipes specifically picked for cooking with toddlers.
Step Four: Eat!
When it’s time to eat and enjoy your toddler’s culinary masterpiece, you’ll observe something bordering on miraculous. Your fussy eater will actually eat their food.
Getting your toddler in the kitchen and allowing him or her to take some control over what is going into their bodies is one way to provide an opportunity to gain that sought after independence. It is also a great way to allow them to use their hands, flex their creativity, and further develop their motor skills. Here are six more reasons to cook with your fussy eater.
After you set your rules for safety, you can start small by allowing your toddler to have jobs like stirring or adding the seasonings. Most recipes can be adapted to allow your toddler to take part in one way or another. If your fussy eater enjoys cooking, the whole family can enjoy mealtime!
Sometimes cooking with your toddler isn’t always the most feasible option. Here are some other positive mealtime solutions for your fussy eaters.
Check out my other articles about raising a precocious toddler for Creative Child Magazine here.