While your toddler won’t be able to chop vegetables or pour drinks, there are simple ways to include her in mealtime prep. Try these activities.

Cooking With Kids: How Your Toddler Can Be a Mealtime Helper

Ready to meet your new sous chef? Involving your toddler in getting meals ready has many benefits. Being included in cooking boosts confidence and helps exercise fine motor skills (such as grasping a spoon and stirring). Kids also tend to like to eat foods they helped prepare.

And toddlers are copycats: Seeing you handling and eating good food makes them want to do the same. In fact, research has also shown that when parents prepare food at home, their young children are more likely to make healthier food choices over time—important because food preferences develop early in life. Not least, a toddler who’s busy at your side is more likely to be happy and less likely to fuss or get into trouble.

Toddler Meals: What You Need

It helps to start with right-size tools. A sturdy step stool might help your child better reach the counter or table. A child-size apron can make her feel important—and keep her cleaner. Implements like spoons or mashers that have big handles may be easier to grasp and use.

The right attitude helps, too: Expect some mess and mistakes and a lot of fun (and actual help) when you invite your toddler to join in kid-safe kitchen tasks.

Toddler Milestones in the Kitchen

Match your child’s individual abilities with these tasks that may be age-appropriate.

Turn to toddler hand power. For many repetitive kitchen tasks, you can start and then let your child take over under your supervision: Stirring batter in a heavy bowl that won’t slip, mashing potatoes, kneading dough (use lots of flour to prevent sticky fingers!). Toddlers especially enjoy dumping: You measure the ingredients; she pours them into a still-cool pot or bowl.

Wash up. Toddlers love to play in water (and it’s not too messy). Show your child how to rinse fruits and vegetables in a colander or sink. Let her whirl a salad spinner.

Make shapes. Toddlers enjoy using cookie cutters to make shapes in rolled cookie or biscuit dough. You can also help her cut out sandwich shapes.

Add garnishes. For instance, give your toddler a selection of fruit—mandarin oranges, blueberries, and apple slices—to turn into faces atop pancakes.

Build something. Try letting your child help when you’re making layered foods. Examples: Adding fruit and nuts to yogurt for a parfait or sprinkling grated cheese on a casserole.

Make juice. After you cut an orange or grapefruit in half, show your child how to squeeze it over a plastic juicer and pour the juice into a kid-safe cup. Let her taste the fruits of her labor.

Set the table. Start your toddler with the simplest kid-safe tasks she can manage, such as adding napkins to each place setting, if she can reach the table, or delivering spoons for a dessert.