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5 Self-Serve Food Ideas to Empower Toddlers

Toddlers love to exercise independence. That’s why they get so frustrated when they are unable to do something by themselves!

The best way to satisfy their urge for autonomy is to set them up for success. By providing scenarios in which they can be independent, whether it’s carrying a snack cup to the table or choosing a piece of fruit from a basket, you’ll boost their self-esteem –and reduce power struggles that arise from frustration.

Here are some easy ideas for empowering toddlers when it comes to food preparation.

Water dispenser and other tricks for helping little ones help themselves

A water dispenser helps toddlers help themselves

Having a station from which your little one can freely help themselves to water gives them a real sense of power! Place a cup next to the water dispenser and show them how to do it. 

Bonus tip: Keep a small basket with a dishtowel nearby and make wiping up spills a natural part of the process. Yes, there will be spills!

Make pouring and transferring easier

The Instagram video above shows a toddler who is able to prepare her own cold cereal. What’s clever is that her family has set her up for success with tools that she can handle more easily: an open container with a measuring cup with which to scoop the cereal and a small pitcher with a small amount of milk.

Related: A small pitcher along with a ton of other useful kitchen tools for kids is included in the Monti Kids Cooking Together Kit

Enabling freedom — within limits

This snack station was shared by @little.farm.montessori who placed an assortment of snacks within reach of her little one. This way, her toddler exercises independence when choosing what to eat, when to eat it, and how much. 

Make snack prep an activity

When your child is able to a) remember steps in a sequence and b) control their hand and wrist with precision, you can offer lots more independent activity when it comes to meal prep.

Swipe on the post above to see how @sonnysmontessori is able to mash avocado and spread it on toast when all the ingredients and tools have been made available for him.

Related: Supporting a toddler who is selective about foods

At Monti Kids, we have developed a cooking kit with a set of recipe cards that help parents understand how to set things up and which steps their child can do.

Recipe ideas for toddler

Practice and repetition are key

The children in the images above have been learning and repeating these skills over time. (Don’t panic!) By practicing with pouring, transferring, and spreading, your little one can develop the fine motor skills, wrist strength, and precision required to open snack bags, pour liquids, and one day make sandwiches!

Start simple by offering one of these activities: 

  • Offer cheese slices on one dish, crackers on a second, and show your child how to combine on their own plate before eating. (They might just eat it all, but you can show them how you do it and over time, they will imitate you.)
  • Two bowls of ingredients with a scooping tool and larger bowl in which to combine them. Try rice and beans or bananas and strawberries.
  • Place a small pitcher of water and an open cup at your child’s table for pouring practice.

When your little one makes food for themselves, they will feel satisfied and accomplished. This boosts their self-esteem, plus these are long-lasting practical life skills that will serve them through adulthood!

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