Cooking with Toddlers


“Crackers and milk sounds like the best thing I’ve never had!” – O

From the start of the year, many of our children have pretended to cook. We got permission from families to cook a variety of foods and ingredients and are starting to dive in. It has been interesting to watch the parallel between their pretend play cooking and their real cooking.


While making chocolate chip cookies, T said, “I make cookies. I like cookies, I like chocolate.” They seemed to take each step of the cooking process very seriously, slowly pouring ingredients, carefully stirring, and saying very little as they cooked.

While making roasted sweet potatoes for snack, A said, “These are like carrots, yum yum.” Again, both A and C who helped season and roast the potatoes took their time, carefully holding measuring utentils and dumping ingredients into the pan. When it was time to stir the potatoes A said, “Oh no, one fell out! Slow slow slow.” C responded, “Oh, slow. Slow!” A said, “Carefully.” C replied, “Carefully slow.”


Meanwhile, in the classroom, their pretend play is fast, experimental, and social. O placed some sand on a light table and said, ‘I am spreading hummus on a cake.” T, A and C came over to help. Soon they were all saying, “Spread hummus on cake!”


C said, “Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!” while reaching for a funnel. O picked up the funnel and said, “I make you coffee.” C replied, “Oh yes, coffee!” O poured some sand into the funnel and said, “I make you coffee. I put milk in your coffee.” C again reached for the funnel and O moved it out of her reach. She said, “Cup. Cup for coffee.” O handed her a spoon and said, “Here is your cup for your coffee and your milk.” C said, “Cup! Cup for coffee!” then pretended to drink the milk.


“I want to try the SWEET potatoes please!”

As we ate our snack, my co-teacher said, “Cynthia, C and A did a good job making these sweet potatoes for snack.” O, who was sitting next to me, turned to me and pat my hand and nodded his head and said, “You did a good job, Cynthia.”


A helped wash the utensils after we prepped the potatoes.

O, T, C, H and A were piled on a bean bag chair pretending to be cooking for each other. O said they were cooking (something I didn’t quite catch). I asked if it was something sweet or something savory. O said, “Sweet!” I asked what ingredients they used and he replied, “Oh we used some vanilla and cinnamon and salt and butter.” I replied, “Wow that sounds delicious, do you then bake it in the oven or cook it on a stove?” O said, “Roast, roast it in the oven.” I said,”Oh just like the sweet potatoes we made.” A said, “Oh like the sweet potatoes I made!”

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” – Mr.Rogers

It is unsurprising that as more “real” cooking is taking place, pretend play cooking is increasing. I love hearing them experiment with combinations of ingredients, methods of cooking, and the idea of prepping food for other people. They seem to grasp that real cooking is different than pretend cooking, perhaps seeing it as serious work, as they slow down and concentrate carefully on each step.

I wonder about cooking for other classrooms, talking about food preferences, and allowing them some more control over ingredient choosing. I wonder if a small group could take a walk to the store up the road, and choose out their own ingredients. I also would like to add some more pretend play cooking props, like cookbooks, kitchen furniture and to get some recipes from their families for meals they cook at home. 


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