Making your kitchen a welcoming place for your toddler can help your child form healthy views on food and nutrition, as well as gender roles (both mom and dad can cook!), and can reduce picky eating habits. Sounds like a win for everyone, right? Here are a few ideas to get you and your toddler started.
Hang Out in the Kitchen
When I walk into my childhood home to visit my mom, the first place I go is the kitchen. My mom, husband, son and I have logged hours there, sitting, chatting and nibbling. The kitchen truly is the heart of your home, and it should feel like a safe and loving place for your whole family. If you are a gourmet cook, you might feel uneasy giving up some of your kitchen space to a very messy—and very loud—toddler. However, if you make a conscious effort to give up perfection, you can slowly start to help the kitchen feel like it belongs to everyone. Try to start spending more of your down time in there as a family. While your toddler might be ready to hit the ground running, you can buy a few relaxing moments together in the kitchen by keeping the television off when everyone arrives home from work and daycare. Give everyone a snack or drink, have a seat and gab a bit before you start the second part of your day. This sets up the idea for your whole family that the kitchen is a place to reconnect.
Playing music can add a whole new dimension to your kitchen experience. Don't worry, your music selection does not have to be all kids' music or the soundtrack to "Frozen" to get your toddler moving. I have found that my kitchen has been the perfect place to introduce my son to different kinds of music, from Louis Armstrong to Bob Marley to Blink 182. Sing along with your child, talk about what the song reminds you of—and, for heaven's sake, dance! The other day, I taught my son to waltz (as well as a 3-year-old can) to Hank Williams while we made dinner together. His future wife will thank me later.
Get Their Hands Dirty
Your toddler is more than capable of getting involved in the kitchen, so feel free to experiment. Let your child assist in food prep for meals and snacks. Your child can help snap asparagus or green beans, rinse veggies or fruit in a strainer and set the table. You can even get him involved in healthy meal planning for the week before you go grocery shopping. If your toddler helps make dishes and feels like he has a say in what is being prepared, he may be more likely to try new foods and eat the healthy items on his plate.
They Play; You Work
Your child might not want to help with meal prep, but that doesn't mean that he or she can't still be in the kitchen with you. Set up special activities at the table or on the kitchen floor away from the stove, while you chop, boil and season. At our home, we have a special bin full of activities that our son can choose from while I cook dinner. He loves coloring, creating sticker projects or playing games while he chats with my husband and me as we whip up our meal. If your little one isn't quite ready to spend lightly supervised time at the table, place some plastic bowls or food-storage containers on the floor that they can turn into drums to play while you cook. Either way, your child is near you in the kitchen, and that's what matters.