Top tips for cooking with your toddler

Jul 14, 2013 at 2:41 p.m. ET

Ready for your toddler to join you in the kitchen? We asked chef Maggie Norris, owner of Whisked Away cooking school in Phoenix, to share her top tips for cooking with young children.

Mother and daughter baking

Toddler-friendly recipes

Chef Maggie Norris, who offers cooking classes to children as young as 3 years old, says at this age, it is all about building confidence in the kitchen. “They can truly help out with any recipe as long as they are given a task,” she says.

That said, sometimes it's easier on the parent to choose a simple recipe. A few recipes to start with include chocolate chip cookies, pizza or fruit-and-yogurt parfaits. “None of these are trailblazing recipes,” Norris says. “But again, it is about building confidence and nurturing the child's innate desire to help.”

Tasks for tiny chefs

“You would be surprised at what toddlers are capable of!” says Norris. In her kids' cooking classes, she has toddlers crack eggs, pour in ingredients, turn on the mixer or the blender, roll dough, put cookie dough on cookie sheets and cut butter with a butter knife.

Sometimes it's the parent or adult that keeps kids from achieving new tasks because they're afraid of making a mess or they just don't have the patience. Keep in mind that toddlers are still learning. They are not going to be clean, and they certainly won't they do things perfectly. “Cooking with toddlers is a good lesson in patience for adults!” says Norris.

That said, Norris reminds to always keep a close eye on them. “My daughter has been known to pour a whole box of baking soda into cookie dough!” she says.

Safety first

Before beginning, always review the safety rules with your toddler. It's essential that kids are aware of the dangers in the kitchen. Norris recommends establishing the following rules:

  1. There should always be an adult in the kitchen.
  2. Wash your hands before cooking.
  3. Wear an apron.
  4. Keep hands away from the stove.
  5. Knives are to be used with supervision — even a butter knife.
  6. Pot handles should always be facing sideways on the stove.
  7. Clean as you go. Toddlers can corral ingredients that have been used and put dishes in the sink.

The polite bite

One of the benefits of getting kids involved in the kitchen is that they'll often try (and like) foods they may have refused under ordinary circumstances. Norris says when she's cooking with toddlers, she teaches them to always take a "polite bite" when it is done. “That means that they have to at least try it, and if they don't like it they don't have to eat it," she says. "Honestly, I use this rule when teaching adults too! Both kids and adults are surprised at some of the things they like when they just give it a chance.”

Expert Tip:

Chef Maggie says the only special items you need for cooking with toddlers are a step stool and an apron. No kid-size cooking tools required. “They're perfectly capable of using what you already have!”

More on cooking with kids

Kids a-cookin' — Teach 'em while they're young
Family dinners that the kids can make
Kids help with the cooking? Sure!