Cooking with a Toddler: Helping vs. Participating

Ava is pretty hands-on in the kitchen, but not always or usually in a “productive” or “efficient” way. She might pull the greens out of the pot of water, put them in the salad spinner, spin them…and then put the greens on the floor. She wants to hold the carrot peeler and poke the pile of carrot peels rather than holding the carrot peeler with me while I peel. She will proudly carry a small bag of trash to the trash room and then howl when I put it down the trash chute.

If I expected Ava’s efforts to move us closer to the goal of having dinner on the table, I would be frustrated. I would probably try to distract Ava instead of including her.

Instead, I think about what I can do to let Ava participate. What can she touch, carry, shred, or smell? How can I reconfigure a task so she is included? We might rip lettuce or kale by hand rather than chopping it into ribbons, knead bread dough on a cookie sheet on the floor, or unload the shopping bag together.

My mother always said that small children might not understand what you are doing, but they do understand exclusion. I think this is very true. When I come home from work, Ava just wants to be with me. If I’m making dinner, she is there too.



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