We’ve all been there; we’re rushing to get things done and we just chase the kids out of the kitchen. The next time you’re about to do that, take a moment to think about how they might be able to help instead! Young children want to please and by giving them age appropriate jobs to do, they’re building skills and helping at the same time.
Tasks that little ones can do to actually help are pretty limited, but what they can do is be with you! Set up the children in their own safe space near you like in a high chair. Give them some adult size utensils to bang and play with like wooden spoons, spatulas or plastic measuring cups. Once they’ve been introduced to a food to eat like cereal or peas or bananas, give them some to squeeze, smell and touch. Don’t forget the importance of talking when they’re in the kitchen with you. Tell them what you’re doing step by step. Show them the food before it’s cooked and after. What are the differences? Did the color change? Did the size change?
Kids can start helping with simple tasks. Pouring ingredients, washing produce, and stirring are all things children at this age can help with. Don’t forget about setting and clearing the table. Kids at this age can start helping with menu planning too! You can make picture menus and let them pair up the items they’d like for snacks!
The options become more plentiful. Cutting soft foods with a plastic knife, measuring dry ingredients and liquids, setting timers and helping at cleanup are all age appropriate. At this age, children will also be more skilled at passing dishes if you’re eating family style and will learn by helping younger children.
They’re ready for more complicated tasks like peeling fruits and vegetables, spooning batter into muffin tins, and threading food onto skewers. Consider having a step stool nearby so they can see into the microwave or turn the oven light on so they can observe the changes happening as items bake.
Every child is different so let them try things. What’s the worst that can happen? Messes can be cleaned up and recipes can be started over. One of my favorite things from my childhood was helping my grandparents pick the rhubarb that grew in their yard. I didn’t even like rhubarb before that! But since I helped pick it, I wanted to eat it too! This is a great way to introduce foods to reluctant eaters.
Researchers say 24 percent of Iowa residents live in child care deserts, places where child care is scant. That figure jumped to 37 percent in rural areas.