One of my favorite recommendations to families that may have a picky or selective eater is to get them helping in the kitchen, which can assist to encourage them to try new foods. Creating food is a sensory experience: we are touching, smelling and tasting - which are all beneficial to trying new foods! There have been so many times my daughters have surprised me by trying something new (check out the picture of my 4 year old eating raw spinach).
Getting started can be challenging and overwhelming. If you haven’t yet had your child help you in the kitchen, you may not sure how to get started. Here are a few things to consider:
How will they reach the counter. We love our learning tower, although it was a bit pricey. A child can definitely stand on a chair, but the benefit of a learning tower or something similar is that it is enclosed all the way around, especially with younger children that might not be as stable on their feet. There are many towers to choose from, and I have also seen being sold on Craigslist, which is a great option. One of the benefits of our learning tower is that it is big and sturdy enough for both of my kiddos (4 years and 1.5 years).
Embrace the mess. Eating with children is messy. Having a child help you in the kitchen can get really messy. My recommendations: go into this knowing there will be a mess and (try) to wait to clean until after you are finished. Let your child touch and taste along the way. Find a time to get your child in the kitchen when you may be more relaxed - is that a weekend morning? A Friday evening? You find a time that works best.
Think about age-appropriate activities. I posted a few of my favorite ways to get young toddlers in the kitchen below, but as children get older they can help with more complicated tasks. You might be surprised when your young child is helping chop as they get to know the way around the kitchen.
Think outside the box, and use all their senses. As I mentioned above, eating is a whole sensory experience. Yes, your child can help mix and stir, but I also think about some other things they might be able to do: can you open a spice and let them smell (cumin and cinnamon make for a great sniff test), can you let them touch the ingredients and describe how they feel to you. This is especially useful for children that may be more apprehensive when it comes to trying new food - let them experience that food with some of their senses that might not involve tasting.
A few ways to get a young toddler (about 15 months to 2 years) helping in the kitchen!
Help set the table. Before we even get to the kitchen, let’s talk about plates, bowls, cups, etc. We have two drawers that are low enough for my girls to reach and are filled with their cutlery and plates (mostly plastic, silicone and non-breakable), as well as a few rags for wiping spills. Sometimes they like to pretend play with the items in this drawer, but I also like to have them help take out what we need for dinner.
Smoothies. This is by far may favorite way to get my toddler involved in preparing a menu item. We usually add frozen fruit (berries), a vegetable (spinach or kale), yogurt and milk. She loves putting the food into the blender and watching it blend together. Need some smoothie ideas? Check out THIS HANDOUT for some fun and creative ways to get your child helping with smoothies!
No-bake snacks. My girls love helping prepare muffins, cookies, pancakes… It is so much fun to watch the ingredients mix together! With a younger toddler, I prefer to have them help when I am not using any egg or raw ingredients. With little ones, sometimes tasting can happen throughout the process (which is a great way for them to learn). As soon as your child understands they can’t put something raw in their mouth, let them get into other baking as well. We love to crack eggs in our house - just make sure hands are clean!
Hummus. A really fun and easy way to get your child involved. We like to take a can of chick peas and either mash with a potato masher or blend in a small food processor. We add spices, oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and other vegetables as well (sometimes roasted peppers or peas). I like to let the kids decide what spices to add. This is one of my favorite recipes: green pea hummus.
DIY meals and snacks. Not just for younger children, but for older kiddos too. I love meals and snacks that can be assembled by each individual person. Some of my favorites include breakfast parfaits (layering yogurt, fruit and granola or cereal) and these date and oat balls. It’s fun to experiment with food and create something that’s just right for you!
Do you have some favorite ways to get your toddler started in the kitchen? Let me know in the comments below!