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Little children love to help Mom and Dad in the kitchen — in just about any capacity. The challenge for parents, of course, is allowing a toddler to explore cooking and clean-up with a minimum of fuss and mess. It can be enormously rewarding for both parents and children to prepare family meals and snacks together at home.

From about the age of 15 months, children are able to participate in food preparation and cleaning up the kitchen. You will need to provide a low work surface or a stool at the kitchen counter. Child-size tools, such as brooms and mops, make the job fun and less frustrating for the child.

Toddlers are capable of having fun at just about any task, and they love to imitate adults. Believe it or not, they really are able to be helpful! For example, a toddler can:

  • tear up lettuce
  • wash fruits and vegetables
  • slice fruits such as strawberries and melon with a plastic knife
  • peel hard-boiled eggs
  • pour water or liquid a cup at a time into a pot or mixing bowl
  • stir batter
  • spread peanut butter, butter or cream cheese
  • knead dough
  • roll out dough and cut out cookies
  • set the table
  • wash dishes
  • carry a dish into the kitchen (not a full plate of spaghetti!)
  • load the dishwasher (just don’t allow him to sit on top of the door)
  • scrub the counter and table with a sponge
  • sweep and mop the floor with child-sized tools
  • put groceries and dishes away in low cabinets
  • feed the family pets

By patiently showing your child each step in these activities and providing appropriate tools, the child will become quite capable in the kitchen. It only takes a few extra minutes and you will be teaching your child lifelong skills. By including children in daily activities, rather than excluding or distracting them, we are allowing them to contribute to the family in whatever way they are able.

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