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Kids in the Kitchen: Finding the Right Tools

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I get silly excited when I find large and small versions of the same thing.

Of course no specialized gear is required for the family looking to include their kids in the kitchen. Everyday items do the job just fine, but finding tools that are scaled to the child’s size can make things a bit easier, and help to empower children who might otherwise struggle with items that are made for adults to handle. Long before my daughter was born, I developed a keen eye for child-sized gadgets and cooking utensils. I often joke that the reason I worked a second job while teaching was to pay for all of the things I would buy for my classroom. Of course the school would always provide me with the funds for things I truly needed (and then some), but when you happen upon a miniature cheese grater while out grocery shopping, you don’t wait for the school to approve your purchase. You just buy it.

I was always surprised by how difficult it could be to find items designed with children in mind, so I was constantly on the lookout for things to add to my ever expanding collection. When my daughter became interested in working with me in the kitchen, I already had plenty of tools on hand, but I have made new discoveries along the way and continue to compulsively grow my collection, so I thought I would share some tricks of the trade for those who are still preparing a space for their own kids in the kitchen.

I have included quite a few links, but most of the items I mention can be found locally and few need to be purchased online. I don’t have any affiliate accounts, so these links are mostly to help you visualize what I’m referring to. Where possible, I did link to the exact items we use in our home, since I know I can recommend them. 

Look for Sets

Can you tell that this one is totally posed? Annabelle and I pretended and goofed off with kitchen utensils in an even-messier-than-normal kitchen, just so you could have another photo in this post!

While some items aren’t easy to find in a child-friendly size, many cooking items come in sets designed for both large and small jobs, and the smallest item is often a perfect size for little hands. The nice thing about having sets is that you can cook together using tools that look identical, which is often important to children who want to be fully involved. It’s nice when they can see that they are able to do the very same thing as you. I’m not suggesting that you replace everything in your kitchen with a large/small version of the same, but if you need a new cutting board, and you have young children – look for a set!

Things that I have found for our kitchen in sets with a child friendly size include: mixing bowls, wooden and plastic mixing spoons, bamboo cutting boardsminiature whisks and mesh strainers.

Check Unexpected Places

I have found child-sized tools in some very unusual places. If you train your eye to be on the lookout, you might be surprised at what you find! Dollar stores, the baking aisle in the grocery store, and even the hardware store have yielded some very exciting finds for me, including our miniature cheese grater, some small bamboo tongs, a great child sized spatula, and small rolling pins. Of course any good thrifter or garage saler knows that gems of all kinds can turn up in these places, but it’s not consistent. Also, for child-sized baking pans – look in your toaster oven!

Mail Order

Sampling the icing for the cookies we decorated at our Pumpkin Party.

When you can’t find what you’re looking for in a local store, the internet will almost always have your answer. Here’s a list of some of my favorite items for kids in the kitchen, and places to buy them.

Juicer: Our glass juicer is a fantastic tool to have on hand for recipes that call for the juice of just one or two lemons, limes, or oranges. It works wonderfully and is small and simple enough that Annabelle can use it, too.

Knives: Our knife of choice right now is the My Safe Cutter, since Annabelle is still a bit young for anything else. She loves to use this knife, since items that are too hard to cut can still be poked and investigated thoroughly. From classroom experience, however, I know that this vegetable chopper and this serrated knife with a blunt tip are the perfect next steps.

Rolling Pins: I have used at least three different child-sized rolling pins, but this one is by far my favorite.

Whisks: While small versions of ordinary whisks are easy to find in a regular store, if you’re just looking for something fun, I highly recommend the bouncy whisk. It’s awesome for the young child who hasn’t quite learned that rapid whisking motion yet. We even used it in the classroom, with a little soap, water, and coloring, to “make bubbles.” So fun.

Spatulas: This little “cookie spatula” was a lucky grocery store find some years ago, and it’s the perfect size for little hands. I can’t promise it’s sold at your local store, but you can buy it on Amazon.

Aprons and Chef’s Hats: Okay, so these aren’t necessary, but they’re tons of fun! For maximum variety and the choice to support an independent artist, check out the adorable selection of aprons and chef’s hats on etsy.

For Mealtimes

Matchy matchy place settings. No special ordering required!

Of course we all know where to find plastic cups, bowls, and silverware for infants and toddlers, but these things are only useful for a short time and it’s better for the health of our children and the environment to avoid plastic anyway. Instead of buying these items that are useful only temporarily, we love to use “real” dishes.

Bread plates and fruit bowls are the perfect size for the smallest eaters. Cocktail silverware is just the right size for infants and toddlers (and you can use it for appetizers at dinner parties when you remember what having a social life is like ;)

Shot glasses are the perfect size for infants, and even if they’re not useful down the line, glass is recyclable, or they’re great for individual mini-desserts. If you’re not comfortable with glass, check the kitchen section of larger stores for stainless steel condiment cups. These work great, too! For toddlers and preschoolers, rocks glasses or small juice glasses work wonderfully, and you may even have some on hand if they were part of your set of glassware. You can even save small jars, remove the labels, and use them as glasses. If tea time is an important ritual in your home, espresso cups are perfect for allowing toddlers to enjoy a bit of herbal tea along with you.

Creamers make it easy for young children to pour their own water, milk, or juice, and practice their fine motor skills in the process, and are useful down the line if you’re a tea or coffee drinker.

For further inspiration, and to see some child sized kitchen tools in action, check out Deb’s great list of Montessori-inspired food preparation activities for preschoolers. Many can be adapted for even younger chefs as well.

While you may not need specialized items to cook with your children, lovingly selecting tools that are just the right size can be an enjoyable experience, and using them can make things a bit easier and more fun for you and your kids in the kitchen!

What are the must-haves in your child-friendly kitchen?


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23 thoughts on “Kids in the Kitchen: Finding the Right Tools

    1. melissa Post author

      Kids can definitely get by with the bigger things, but I think they’re able to be more precise with tools that are scaled to their size, and this helps them more quickly develop their skills and greater confidence in their cooking abilities. Works for us, anyway! :)

  1. Rach

    Oh thanks for the advice on the knives and bouncy whisks! Must find a UK supplier. I would add a small wooden mortar and pestle. B broke the pottery one I bought for her on the first pound! Ikea have some nice miniature tongs, fish slices (y’know, the ones for flipping things over in a frying pan), and soup ladle.
    Can I ask, does A use the cheese grater? Think B would love a go but I’m a bit nervous. Also what does A slice with the knife?
    Rach recently posted..Art: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.My Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      Oh, I wish we had an Ikea here! Thanks for the tips on that!

      Annabelle does not use the cheese grater at this point. She plays with it at times, but has never grated with it. Of course I very rarely use it, being vegan and all. She has never had dairy, so I don’t give her cheese to work with yet. I can see being a bit nervous, but don’t *think* they’d apply enough force at this age to really hurt themselves. Her favorite thing to do with the knife is poke at tomatoes ;) She doesn’t really slice anything at this point, just pokes and prods at a piece of whatever I’m slicing. With a bit of direction, I think she could slice, but she is so resitant to help that I have just let her explore with the knife, cutting board, and veggies in her own way.

      1. Melissa Vose

        I second the shout out for Ikea; not only do they have little glasses and plates and stuff, but their kids’ area have ‘toy’ kitchen gadgets in their size! Some would be useful for actual cooking; ie, the rolling pin.
        Great tips about where to find smaller scale items, thanks!!

        I start my kids chopping when I feel they are ready and they start asking; each kid is ready at a different age. Matthew was ready at around 2 years old (!!)~his manual dexterity has always been miles ahead of his peers, which is cool because he struggles in other areas. When his confidence falters I point out that he cut vegetables years before his brothers could! =)

        I use a grater for things like fresh ginger, nutmeg, apple, carrots, and zucchini; maybe Annabelle could learn on zucchini or apple when she’s ready, because they are soft, yet not cheese? Just a thought!
        Melissa Vose recently posted..How We Roll When We Roll With ItMy Profile

  2. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

    These are all such great ideas! Much of Kieran’s play kitchen utensils came from garage sales – they’re just odds and ends we picked up that fit his hands. For the most part, he uses adult sized tools when he’s helping me in the kitchen, but occasionally he’ll grab something of his to use instead.

  3. Elisabeth@Manic Mrs. Stone

    WHoa! Awsome! Thanks for this. I didn’t even think about looking for child-sized kitchen utinsels. One of E’s biggest issues with helping me in the kitchen is she drops stuff a lot and has a difficult time handling it. For some reason this didn’t even hit me until I read this post. I’m going shopping this month!

    xo, mrs. stone
    Elisabeth@Manic Mrs. Stone recently posted..A TODDLER-STYLE LUNCH + RECIPEMy Profile

  4. Emma

    The few utensils/tool I had as a child that were my size were treasured possessions then and now! I regularly lament the fact that I wasn’t invited into the kitchen as a kid (and no one would have been in there to do the inviting anyway) and strive to cook/involve my daughter in my cooking and food prep, grocery shopping, serving, clean up, etc. Being the mom of an 8 month old, I’m still getting used to seeing the world through her eyes. I hadn’t thought, “Teaspoon to tablespoon, sugar bowl to soup bowl = baby equivalents” before but I do, now! Thanks!
    Emma recently posted..FoodMy Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      “Teaspoon to tablespoon, sugar bowl to soup bowl = baby equivalents” That’s a great way to look at it! It’s also just plain fun to gather up little, tiny things :)

  5. Anna

    The exciting thing about doing this with your toddler is that you truly do end up with confident children in the kitchen. Mine are 11, 9 and very nearly 7 and between the three of them they can and do cook anything. They made me a four course meal for my birthday in the summer and it was delicious. They all make soups and bake bread and cakes. Most importantly, they do not feel that the kithen is out of bounds, or dangerous. They have disasters, they cut themselves, yet they always go back with the lesson learned and with fresh enthusiasm. My 9 year old has requested a Jamie Oliver cook book for Channukkah!
    Anna recently posted..BruisedMy Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      I remember you writing about the meal they made for your birthday – you must have been so touched and so proud of them, too. Your children are so darn cool :)

  6. tinsenpup

    Thank you. It would be great to try to involve both of my children in food preparation more. The ten year old doesn’t need much in the way of special tools, of course (she’s nearly as big as me!), but I’ve collected a few links for the little one. I love the shot glass idea. I’ll have to look out for some at the op shop/thrift store. In the past, Ikea has sold sets of child size cooking utensils that work quite well.
    tinsenpup recently posted..Six…Seven…Six…Seven…Six…DibbyMy Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      I’m starting to think proximity to an Ikea may be an important factor to consider as we plan our next move! I’m glad you found at least a few things that may be helpful for Wawa.

  7. Deb @ Living Montessori Now

    Wow! What an awesome post, Melissa! I can totally relate to getting “silly excited” about finds like that! Thanks so much for all the links to resources for kids’ kitchen tools. So no one would miss your wonderful Montessori-inspired resources, I added your post link to the main part of my post at http://livingmontessorinow.com/2011/11/08/montessori-inspired-food-preparation-for-preschoolers/.
    Deb @ Living Montessori Now recently posted..Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation for PreschoolersMy Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      I’m glad I’m not alone in my love for all things child-sized :) I’m honored that you added the link to your post! I was actually thinking of doing the same – our two are definitely related!

  8. Adrienne

    Oh man! The kid-sized versions of things are just too great! I wouldn’t have thought of that! How fun. I so look forward to cooking with my little one once he’s well…old enough to stand for more than a few seconds, ha! Thanks for the great ideas, I’ll be tucking these away for the future!
    Adrienne recently posted..Kitchen Fun?My Profile


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