By Jessica Lehmann, Registered Dietician-Nutritionist
Coffee is where it all started. One morning, I sleepily realized that showing my baby how to push the “on” button on the espresso machine would be like pushing a button on a toy truck or an elevator, but so much more productive and exciting for both of us. Brilliant. Oliver got to push a button and get hugs, kisses, and thank yous from me while listening to the loud buzz-hum of the machine and watching the mysterious dark liquid drip into a cup…all while being held by me, bursting with pride.
I wondered if, on a subconscious level, he was ever curious about what was in the daily beverage that would transform his weary, sleep-deprived mom into a more cheerful, more engaged, temporarily less-exhausted version of herself.
Our mini-barista became indispensable to the morning routine. (One of his very first sentences was instructing his dad to “Make Mama latte.”) Soon, he was hanging out and watching me cook with keen interest. He got to stir the batter for pancakes, mash bananas for banana bread, and mix spoonfuls of applesauce into plain yogurt.
Our baby quickly grew into a toddler who was eager to explore the many things he could do all by himself. All day long, Oliver and I had negotiations about things he could do with help or without help (or his least favorite category: oh no, never never never, you have to help me keep you safe and be helpful, please!). I knew it was my job to give him limits and it was his job to test those limits, but…it was going to take more than just a latte to get through that phase.
Having playdates in the kitchen was a great place for us to practice working together by doing simple and safe food prep tasks. Of course, when he was just a year old, he couldn’t do anything in the kitchen by himself. Often, when we started a task, I would say “you start, I’ll finish,” or “I’ll start, you finish.” Either way, we were getting the job done together.
As he matured into an older toddler, he could do a little more and I could do a little less. Finally, he was able to do more and more things completely on his own. Sprinkling shredded cheese on a tortilla for a quesadilla, beating eggs, adding ingredients to a bowl of pasta, and putting a slice of turkey on a sandwich were things that he could do with a little help. Eventually, he learned to pour milk from a small cup into a bowl of dry cereal; it was kind of cool to have a toddler who could “make” his own breakfast. He was very proud of himself each time he mastered a new skill in the kitchen, which happened more and more quickly.
Cooking with your child can be an adventure, a gift, a chance to learn; it can be an opportunity for science education, math practice, language development, and learning to work as a team. Best of all, kitchen playdates can be about creating happy memories in addition to delicious and nutritious food for the family.
- Fetch cans and packages from low shelves or cabinets
- Peel bananas
- Roll or crush crackers to make cracker crumbs
- Slice soft foods (cooked potatoes, bananas) with a table knife
- Pour liquids from small containers into bowl
- Wash fruits and vegetables
- Stir batters with whisks
- Use a rotary egg beater (with supervision)
- Place toppings on pizza or snacks (ants on a log)
- Spread soft textures with a table knife