The most important thing when cooking with a very young child (aged 1-4) is choosing the right recipe. If the recipe is beyond them or unsafe for them to do, both of you are going to end up stressed and frustrated, rather than having fun. Here is Tickle Fingers' quick guide to choosing a recipe:
The shorter the better.
Toddlers have short attention spans. If the recipe has too many steps, even the most super keen budding chef will lose interest.
The solution: choose recipes with less than 6 ingredients and 5-6 steps.
Safety, safety, safety
You are the best person to judge what is safe for your child to do. However, the key to a fun cooking session is for both of you to be relaxed. If the recipe involves having a very young child cooking at a hob (stovetop) or using things like sharp knives or graters, there is immediate stress and pressure.
The alternative is do these bits for them. But most 2-3 years olds are beginning to assert their independence and like to do everything themselves. Both my children's first sentence was "I do it" and they had a tendency to kick-off if I tried to step in The best way to keep a toddler engaged and having fun is to make sure they can be involved start-to-finish.
The solution: don't pick a recipe with steps a young child cannot do safely, or choose one where you can do those steps before starting to cook with them.
Avoid ingredients you don't want your toddler to eat
Most toddlers (and let's face it us too) like to eat and lick fingers as they cook. And that's part of the upside of cooking with them - they're happy to try things they perhaps they wouldn't otherwise. However, if you've chosen a recipe which involves them handling something like raw meat, you will be focused on stopping them eating and licking, rather than enjoying cooking together.
The solution: in the early days, avoid these ingredients. As they get older, toddlers who cook a lot can be taught to check before they try something. The Tickle Fingers Cookbook has ideas on how to tackle this.
Avoid expensive or hard-to-find ingredients
You want to feel able to let your child loose on the food. It's hard to do that if they're throwing around something like an expensive piece of fresh salmon.
Cooking is not just about what goes on in the kitchen, there's also the shopping, most likely with your toddler in tow. You don't want to spend hours searching for a weird ingredient, while your little one has a melt down.
The solution: keep to everyday, good-value ingredients.
Don't choose a recipe by pretty pictures alone
This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Children love to pick a recipe because it has fun, child-appealing decoration. They then go to cook it and find they can't re-create the look and are disappointed. One of the most wonderful things children can get from cooking is that sense of personal achievement of doing something for themselves. It's such a shame for something to take away from that.
The solution: ask yourself, can my child do this with minimal help? If they can't, find something else they can.
In short, the Tickle Fingers criteria for a good recipe to cook with a toddler are:
- Everyday ingredients
- And of course, taste yummy.
Finding recipes which meet all of these is not easy and the main reason I ended up putting together the Tickle Fingers Cookbook and over the coming weeks I will be posting up more that fit the bill.