Cooking with Toddlers: The Messy Aftermath


Until I started cooking with Fig I never fully grasped the real meaning of a mess. I don’t mean the kind of mess than can be solved with a bit of tidying up. No I mean, the walls must be scrubbed and the dog washed kind of mess. The kind of mess that makes you question why you even did this in the first place.

I have this thought regularly. Fig really excels in the mess-making department.

His penchant for mess making is further exasperated by his burgeoning listening skills. And when I say burgeoning , I really mean non-existent but we’re-working-on-it listening skills. He basically listens to 5% of what I tell him.

Just the other day we had poured a healthy amount of coconut oil and maple syrup over the oats we were preparing for granola.

” I need to grab a spoon; please don’t stick your hands in the mix”. I turn the corner and on cue, hear him stick his hands in the mixture….and then the scream.

There was a trash truck on our street. Ever see a thirteen year old girl at a One Direction concert (hands go up the air, uncontrollable shrieking and full body convulsions take over)? That is pretty much Fig’s reaction when he see’s a trash truck.

The next 45 minutes were spent scrubbing maple syrup off the walls, out of Fig’s hair, from the couch and off the window that he had smashed himself against trying to get a better look at the truck.

It was two hours later, when I went to sit on the couch, did I realize I had indeed missed a spot. The 6 billion ants that had swarmed on a drop of maple syrup tipped me off.

Twas the mess that kept on giving.

Some days go really smooth but if you cook with little folks long enough you’ll surely experience apocalyptic messes. It is just an inevitable part of teaching children about food. If you’re cooking real food there will be a real mess.

 Reducing the Mess

  • Do food prep outside. Weather permitting, I try to do anything with big-mess potential outside. The squirrels and birds thank us.


  • Have a plan before inviting your little one into the kitchen. I’ve let Fig join in nilly willy and paid for it dearly. Doing prep work and figuring out where/when to invite a toddler into the kitchen will save you a lot of mess and stress.
  • Put an apron on them: There is nothing worse than scrubbing your kitchen AND your toddler from head-to-toe. An apron can save you a load of laundry.


  • Clean as you go: In my pre-baby days I used to have 45 bags, jars and packages of things out on the counter as I cooked. The more exciting things on the counter the harder it will be for a little one not to dump them all out. Minimize the temptation.
  • That being said, Make sure you have all the ingredients handy. Leaving a toddler unattended for even a split second can end up badly. I make sure I have most of what we’ll be using on the adjacent counter; easy enough to reach when needed but far enough away from curious hands.
  • Leverage your Dog: Assuming that what you’re cooking is good for dogs; a little pooch can help mitigate the mess. Our dog Mafalda comes in especially handy when we are working with peas.


  •  And finally, involve your toddler in the clean up. It is much quicker to simply send little ones out to play after they’ve wreaked havoc in your kitchen but I think involving kids in the tidying up process is equally important as the activity that created the mess in the first place. At two, Fig can easily help with dishes, light sweeping of the floors, and washing the counters.


Happy cooking!


11 thoughts on “Cooking with Toddlers: The Messy Aftermath

  1. apuginthekitchen says:

    All excellent tips, I love how you work with Fig and teach him to respect food and the kitchen, I did that with my daughter also and think it’s terribly important. I taught Montessori for years and devoted one day a week to kitchen work with the kids, preparing food and cleaning up after ourselves. It was a fun learning experience and I think a valuable life lesson for the children. Fig is adorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pamplemousse says:

    Another great post! I get to cook with a toddler AND a 15 month old at the same time (and sometimes a 6 yr old too) usually which makes dealing with the toddler seem “almost” manageable in comparison. Teaching the baby what we do allows me to have more patience with my almost 3 year old, as he catches on to everything faster, so again, in comparison, I feel like we are making progress in his kitchen abilities since he doesn’t keep reaching for the hot pot over and over again, or keep squishing the fruit for the salad until its inedible by others. It’s all about perspective I guess 😉 And the only time I am envious of people with dogs is when i see how helpful they can be with the kitchen mess cleanup!! Cleaning up is definitely the worst.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cookingwithtoddlers says:

      Wow! The things I have to look forward too when my youngest gets to be old enough for kitchen activities. I am still dealing with the squishing issue. We’ve eaten many disturbing fruit salads before 🙂 Clean up is really the part I look forward to the least…cooking with Fig means 5 times more cleanup! The really think our dog helps mitigate the mess by 25% percent at least though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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