Creating a Child-Friendly Kitchen
Having your children help in the kitchen with meal preparation or clean-up is fabulous! Preparing your kitchen in a way that is safe and child-friendly is a great way to promote and develop an important life skill. It will prepare them for chores like helping in the kitchen, give them autonomous access to snacks and beverages, and even give your toddler a place to feel close to you while you cook.
In order for your children to eat healthy, healthy food must be easily accessible to them between meals. When you see your child open the fridge and look around for a bite, if they see an apple and brownies, they will most likely always choose the brownies. However, if a child sees an apple or a container of hummus and celery, both are great choices! Having the choice without having to ask makes them feel good too! So once or twice a week, do a bit of meal preparation. Wash and cut up some celery and make up a batch of hummus; put the hummus in a few snack-sized containers. Your child can then just grab a container and the celery and have a portioned out healthy snack. Keep this on the lower or eye-level shelf for your child. Do the same thing with other fruits and vegetables; maybe some whole grain crackers too. If you can control the portion and the types of snacks, your child can control which snack to have out of the two or three that are available. Beverages are another area which is sometimes forgotten. Pop and sugary fruit juices are just the same as those brownies! So have the milk, water, or other healthier beverage options at eye-level.
Keep chips or unhealthy snacks out of the pantry. If you are going to have a special night where the kids can have chips with movie night, for example, then buy just enough for that night. If you have unhealthy snacks around the house, I promise you, your smart little ones will find them! Stock it with snacks like homemade crackers or dried fruit, keep them at eye-level and in a clear container.
Kitchen prep for your little chefs
Having your child help with meal preparation and enjoy the skill is a great feeling. With this in mind, there are a few things you can do to alter your kitchen to make this an easier experience for them and yourself.
- Depending on the stage in development and skill of your child, you may want to put the items they would use, for example, a mixing bowl, in a lower cupboard so your child isn’t dragging a chair around your kitchen to reach for those high shelves.
- If your child is beginning to use a cutting knife, place a rubber band or tape around the base of the handle so they know which one they can use safely. They will feel comfortable safely grabbing the tools they know to use without needing to ask you every time.
- Invest in some child-friendly cooking tools. Certain websites and stores sell equipment which is designed for children of all different ages and skill-levels. By having these tools available, safety in the kitchen increases and so does your and your child’s comfort level.
- Keep a sturdy stepping stool in the kitchen. If your child needs help reaching for a cupboard or work area, a stepping stool is safer than a dining room chair. Also, it won’t matter as much if your child spills!
- Provide your child with work stations. If your child is cutting vegetables or putting food on skewers, provide a special area which allows enough elbow room for the two of you. Have another area for peeling vegetables, for example, in the sink. Maybe another little area for stirring ingredients together. This keeps things stress-free and safe for the both of you.
- Have special rules posted on the fridge and use drawings or pictures if they're not reading yet. This is a great way to have your child remember what is allowed and not allowed while cooking. For example, if your child is a beginner, have a reminder about keeping clear of the hot stove top or be careful of the sharp knives.
- Keeping certain ingredients in clear jars with labels can be helpful when your child is young and beginning to help you. If you ask them to bring the dried kidney beans over, they can see them through the glass and learn to read and associate the word to the beans.
Integrating your toddler
Toddlers are hands-on-everything and curious. This is why it is a great time to slowly integrate them into the kitchen! Not every child will grow up loving to cook or end up being a chef but they can at least know how to cook and appreciate it! Starting at this age will make it easier for your child to develop more skills and understand the foundations of working in the kitchen.
If you have space beside your kitchen and working area, set up a spot for your toddler to have a few plastic age appropriate kitchen toys; you can find these in most stores which sell children’s toys. Whether it is the full little kitchen you can buy, or a couple utensils and play food, this is a great starting place!
Allow your child to start playing with real kitchen utensils; this can be a mixing bowl, some dry macaroni noodles, dry beans, and a wooden spoon. Ask your child what they are making and show them how to stir the noodles and beans in the bowl.
The last tip for toddlers is set aside a lower-level cupboard. Place their little tools in a safe cupboard for when it is time to help with meal preparation and clean-up. When it is time for you to make dinner, bring them over to the kitchen and tell them what you are doing. Allow them to bring out their special tools and they can help on the side, making their own special pretend meal. Ask them what they are making and how they are making it. This allows them to think differently about what is going on in the kitchen and it gives them a chance to use that huge imagination!
Enjoy cooking up some magical memories!