I am going to focus purely on the things we do (have done) for our kids between the ages of 12 and 36 months today because otherwise I will go on forever. I'm using bullets because they are awesome. I'm telling you everything I'm doing before hand...for...I don't know what reason. Please feel free to add suggestions in the comment section. I'd love for this to be a resource for people to visit and get ideas, and I am in no way under the impression that I know it all .
- This is a fantastic age for taking your kids to a garden supply store or nursery. Name the plants, and let them smell the herbs. When my daughter was one I took her with me to pick out what we would plant in the garden. Name the colors you see, the things you smell, the plants at various stages...i.e. "Look we are buying seeds, one day they will grow into these plants over here".
- Take a visit to a farm, weather it be for berry picking, or a pumpkin patch, or even a small animal farm. Visiting someone who owns chickens would also do the trick nicely. We have gone berry picking, but I must confess we have never been to an animal farm. I haven't found one yet in our area that I would like the kids to see. The idea is to see where the food we get from the store and farmers market comes from.
- A trip to the store is a great place to learn at this age! For younger kids just naming the items as you put them in the cart is great. As young as 18 months my daughter had a preference as to what we brought home "BROCCOLI!!", she would scream if I passed them by....maybe it's best to do this on a week day when there aren't a lot of shoppers about. I let them put items into bags and count how many potatoes, carrots, bags of rice that we were buying. Now that my daughter is older I ask her what food group each item fits into.
- Name everything as you cook with it! Did everyone see the Jaime Oliver special where the kids didn't know what tomatoes and eggplants are? That will not be my kid (I hope). My daughter used to love watching me do things in the kitchen, from sorting herbs from the garden, to chopping to stirring. Before she could even comprehend what I was doing I was telling her all about it. I felt silly at first, but now I'm in the habit of talking to myself all the time....it's not insanity, it's a teaching tool.
Ziploc bag "cooking"
- Make homemade croutons. Cube stale bread and pour dried herbs, salt, and a bit of olive oil into a Ziploc bag. Add the bread to the bag and let your children shake it about until the bread is coated evenly. Cook these in the toaster oven until crispy.
- Make guacamole in a bag. I add avocado, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic to a bag and let my kids squish it around as long as they want. This is a great recipe, because not only do the kids love making it, they love eating it.
- Two nights ago we made trail mix as a family. My daughter helped me read the recipe (that I wrote), find the appropriate measuring cups, and pour them in to a large bag, which we then all took turns shaking.
- If it needs to be poured, smashed, or stirred, and you aren't in a hurry let your kids take part. Mashed potatoes, any sort of batter (Even before we knew about dear sons egg allergies I like to use egg replacement, because I didn't like the idea of my kids getting into raw eggs), dips, all beg for little hands to stir and smash.
- I love cooking with small appliances because they cut down the time I spend in the kitchen and they don't heat up the house like an oven. Let your kids count the number of cups of rice you put in your rice cooker, or pour the ingredients into the bread machine.
- Let them serve themselves. When my kids pick out (put on) their own pizza toppings, baked potato toppings, and taco accessories (yes, that's the word) not only do they eat more, but they get super excited about having "made dinner".
- Make Popsicles! Chop up various fruits and let your kids place them in an ice cube tray, pour juice, yogurt, or a combination of the two on top.