Best Tips for Cooking with Toddlers (Plus Recipes)

Having the kids in the kitchen can be fun, productive, and delicious, but how exactly does cooking with toddlers work? Learn how to channel their “I do it myself!” spirit into fun cooking activities and basic kitchen skills.

woman and toddler cooking in kitchen together.

Cooking with Toddlers

Most people I know fall into one of two camps: They either find the idea of cooking with their toddler ridiculously fun and enjoyable, OR they think it’s horrifying and a total mess waiting to happen.

I get both of those perspectives (really, I do!) and think that it’s possible to cook with your little kids in ways that are fun for both of you and that keep messes somewhat contained. The reality is that sometimes the kids will be with us in the kitchen and they will want to be involved. This can help with that—and also the times you intentionally seak out a cooking activity to do together.

I love having my kids in the kitchen when I’m cooking or to do separate cooking projects with them because I find that it helps them to explore foods without the pressure that sometimes creeps in at the table where they’re expected to taste new foods. (A kids cooking set is helpful here!) It gives them ownership over activities that often seem like they’re only for adults. And it shows them how capable they are completing tasks.

Now of course, I’m not here to tell you how to have your 2 year old bake a cake on their own, but I am going to share my best tips to cook with your toddler in a way that’s fun for them and for you. I hope it gives you ideas for simple kitchen activities that are appropriate for their age…along with some tips to stay sane next to your tiny bundle of energy!

(Find the best tips for baking with kids, easy Sugar Cookies, and my go-to Salt Dough to help, too.)

toddler peeling a carrot

1. Narrow the Scope

When cooking with toddlers, especially when you just start out, keep the scope of your project small. Work with their attention span and know that they probably won’t have the focus to stay with you through a whole long recipe.

But help cut up one pepper or peel a carrot? Done! Here are some good activities to start with:

  1. Washing produce in a colander
  2. Peeling a carrot
  3. Chopping a pepper or cucumber
  4. Mashing beans with a potato masher
  5. Washing a bowl with a sponge
  6. Slicing an egg with an egg slicer
  7. Sprinkling cheese on a tortilla to make quesadillas
  8. Spreading pizza sauce over pizza dough
  9. Adding ingredients to a blender to make a smoothie
  10. Helping to stir pancake batter

TIP: Find my favorite toddler activities to do in the kitchen for more ideas.

2. Take Your Time

You’ll want to cook with your toddler when you have enough time to devote to the activity without needing to rush them through it. If you have an appointment in 20 minutes, then save that kitchen activity for later!

The kids may get really into it and want to keep going and you want to be able to let them—or at least having a buffer of time will make it less stressful for everyone. On most weekend mornings, I do a kitchen activity with my girls for morning snack. This gives us the chance to do something that we get to eat, there’s no where else we need to be, and it gives me something to keep them busy. Win, win!

toddler pouring smoothie

3. Keep Messes in Perspective

Yes, cooking with little kids is often very messy. Yes, if you let them get near shredded cheese or sprinkles they will wind up all over the floor. There may be spills. That is what you have a vacuum and/or a broom for.

I’d do your best to relax about the mess and consider the cleaning up part of the activity something that can be fun too. Put on some music, let the kids help sweep or scrub, and model how cleaning up after ourselves as a normal part of being in the kitchen together.

Also, having the kids safely up at counter height in a learning tower can be really helpful, both for their comfort and for keeping the mess a little more in check. (Sometimes anyway!).

4. Let Them Taste, Touch, and Explore

The best part (well one of them anyway!) of cooking with toddlers is that they may be more willing to explore and even taste foods when they’re away from the table and engaged on their own terms. Many kids find this to be a less pressure-filled situation and may taste or nibble on veggies or fruits that they otherwise wouldn’t.

And it’s a great opportunity for them to feel new textures and to explore what foods feel like. So let them have at it! It’s okay if you give them a spoon and they want to use their hands. (Just start the process with a thorough hand washing!)

It’s okay if they taste an ingredient (provided it’s not raw eggs of course). And it’s also okay if they want nothing to do with either of those things and just want to madly whisk. Each kiddo is unique.

toddler mashing avocado

5. Give them the Chance to Do it Themselves

I love to watch my kids learn to do something by themselves, as I stand by and watch and offer assistance as they might need it. I have basic kids cooking tools to help with this too. This gives them freedom within boundaries and keeps them safe and able to explore. It also can help them to stay on task since you’re there to guide them along but trust me: They’ll love the independence of being able to do something all on their own!

And remember to talk about what you did together so you can get a sense of which parts they loved and would like to do again and which parts they’d rather skip. (You might learn that they love spreading icing and putting on sprinkles but they don’t love touching the dough, for example.)

You can do favorite activities regularly, especially if they fit into a daily routine and everyone enjoys them, or pull them out on special occasions or weekends. There’s no one right way to cook with the kids, but a lot of ways to enjoy the process when you do!


Easy Recipes to Cook with Toddlers

Below are some of our very favorite fun recipes to make together, either doing the entire recipe or just part of it.

healthy oatmeal cookies with apples and carrots on tray.

Oatmeal Cookies with Apples and Carrots

Let the kids help grate the carrots and apples or stir the batter together. Or they can be in charge of drizzling on the icing.

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies with Apples and Carrots

Make a batch of these healthy oatmeal cookies for dessert, snack time, or a special breakfast. You can make these half the size using 1-tablespoon batter for each cookie and reducing the baking time to about 16-18 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden brown.

Get the recipe

healthy oatmeal cookies with apples and carrots on tray
sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles on surface.

Easy Sugar Cookies

With just a few simple ingredients and a super simple process, you can make my healthy and easy Sugar Cookies. They have the classic flavor and the dough is so easy to work with. And they’re so super fun to make with the kids!

Easy Sugar Cookies (Healthy and Delish!)

This makes a small batch of lightly sweet cookies. Double it to make more. If at any point the dough seems too sticky, pop it into the fridge for 5-10 minutes to firm up a bit. Or dust your parchment paper and cookie cutters with flour.

Get the recipe

salt dough handprint ornaments

Easy Salt Dough

Learn how to make classic salt dough with the kids, with baking, painting, and storage info. This method is straight forward, easy, and thorough—and they a perfect kids holiday gift to make together.

The Best Easy Salt Dough

These take a few hours to bake and cool, so plan to do the rolling and painting in two separate sessions either morning and afternoon or on two different days. You can make these as ornaments with holes, or just as shapes for the kids to decorate. Skip the holes if you don’t plan to hang them.

Get the recipe

salt dough handprint ornaments
pumpkin pancakes on plate with banana slices.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Let the kids help measure ingredients and stir them together in the bowl. You can also use an ice cream scoop to portion out batter onto a pan or griddle.

Favorite Pumpkin Pancakes

These Pumpkin Pancakes stir together in one bowl, are fluffy and flavorful, and are a perfect breakfast to share with the kids. They’re made with whole-wheat flour and just enough pumpkin spice.

Get the recipe

pumpkin pancakes on plate with banana slices

Pumpkin Bars

This easy one-bowl recipe has an easy method so the kids can help dump everything into a big bowl and stir it together.

Healthy Pumpkin Bars Recipe

These bars are tender when warm out of the oven, so do be sure to let them cool completely before slicing.

Get the recipe

sliced pumpkin bars on cutting board

Pancake Muffins

The kids can help make the batter or top each cup of batter with diced fruit. They could even dice the fruit!

Easy Pancake Muffins (Favorite Pancake Bites)

Baking pancake mix in the oven is an easy way to streamline breakfast and to reduce the amount of time you have to stand at the stove cooking. You can add any topping you like to these and bake them as mini muffins or regular sized ones.

Get the recipe


Creamy Hummus

You can work together to make hummus in the food processor or you can mash everything well with a potato masher—which are sturdy enough for toddler hands.

Creamy Hummus Without Tahini

You can use regular plain yogurt, though I like the consistency that Greek yogurt yields a bit better.

Get the recipe

homemade hummus without tahini
Pita pizza on baking sheet after being cut.

Flatbread Pizza

The kids can spread on the sauce and sprinkle on the cheese to make their own little flatbread pizza.

10-Minute Flatbread Pizza (Just 3 Ingredients!)

For delicious homemade pizza without the work and in a lot less time, Flatbread Pizza to the rescue. Adjust this for allergies as you need.

Get the recipe


Pizza Quesadillas

The kids can help assemble their own quesadillas and you can cook them up. They can also slice up some fruit while they wait for the quesadillas to warm through.

Quick Pizza Quesadillas (An Easy Kids Meal)

This meal is perfect for when you’re short on time or when you want to make pizza with less fuss. Add a simple side of cut up fruit, applesauce, or a salad kit and call it good.

Get the recipe


Spinach Grilled Cheese

You can work together to put the ingredients for this grilled cheese into the food processor and then the kids can use a butter knife to spread it onto the bread.

Easy Spinach Grilled Cheese

You can also do this with full size spinach if that’s what you’re able to find. Just discard any stems before starting the recipe.

Get the recipe


Chocolate Avocado Pudding

You can cut the avocado in half and let the kids scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Then add it to the blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Quick and Easy Chocolate Avocado Pudding

This is best on the day you make it, though you can store it in the fridge for 24 hours in an airtight container. If any liquid separates out, simply stir it up.

Get the recipe

chocolate avocado pudding in pink cup

Banana Popsicles

The kids can add everything to the blender for this easy popsicle recipe and then help fill up the molds to freeze.

Favorite Banana Popsicles (Easy and Creamy)

These fresh banana popsicles are incredibly creamy and easy to make—and they’re a balanced snack or dessert to share with the kids. Try the base recipe or one of the optional flavors.

Get the recipe

banana popsicles on plate with banana slices.

Best Tips for Success

  • Set the kids up for success with a learning tower to bring them safely up to counter height, or have them sit in their highchair or booster seat.
  • Invest in a set of kids cooking tools made specifically for little hands. An apron may help too!
  • Do just one step of a recipe if that’s all you have the bandwidth for.
  • Try to set aside more time than you expect you’ll need to ensure you don’t have to rush.
  • Expect a mess and plan to sweep or vacuum after.
  • Enjoy the process and let the kids explore food in this fun way.

Related Recipes

Do you have questions or favorite ways to cook with your toddlers? I’d love to hear in the comments!

This post was first published October 2019.

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