The rule of thumb here is to keep it simple and accessible. Anything that has the two year old watching a parent for more than about two minutes is not well suited for their attention span, while conversely, any recipe that is forgiving of uneven measurements is great!
When flipping through the cookbook, look for:
- Limited ingredients
- 5-10 steps
- Ample opportunity for hands on help (scooping, measuring, mixing)
- Not time sensitive
- Limited dishes/clean up
What recipes work?
- Cookies. The dough comes together in about 10 steps (good for limited attention spans) and generally stands up to lengthy interruptions, though stick it in the fridge or freezer if breaking for over an hour. Often can be liberally “decorated” without messing up taste or enjoyment. Edible more or less straight out of the oven!
- Quick breads and muffins. The batter comes together in under 10 steps, and it’s edible about 10 minutes out of the oven! Nearly impossible to mess up visual appeal.
- Biscuits. Simple and quick in every way.
What must be made with caution?
- Soufflés, popovers, and other humidity-sensitive foods. If the main rising agent is egg, and the toddler likes opening the oven, you’ll need to distract with an oven light and make sure you get the batter in on time. The froth’s air bubbles (which should turn to steam and assist the rise) collapse when you have to put the dish on hold to deal with a toddler’s whims.
What doesn’t work?
- Yeasted breads. There’s a lot of room for error with yeast, and a two year old isn’t great for precise timing or temperature.
- Pies. The chopping at the front end of the recipe doesn’t keep their attention, though if that’s done before they join in the baking, a pie with a simple top crust can be successful.
- Anything with raw meat. Two year olds generally can’t be trusted to wash their hands after touching raw meat and before they touch anything else…like the chair they need to climb up to get to the kitchen sink. Best to avoid.
- Anything with pre-cooked components. Not only is it more dishes to whip out of the way, your normal pattern of chopping, cleaning, or prepping the next portion of the recipe while cooking will be disrupted as you ensure burner safety.
- Anything with high oil/grease splatter potential. Toddlers standing on a chair are still only chest-high, and if they are near the burner, splatter could go into their faces.