The Splurgy Etsy Find That Makes Cooking with My Kid So Much Better
“My kid loves to help in the kitchen.” I hear that from a lot of parents. Often, the comment is accompanied by an eye roll, air quotes, and heavy sarcasm dripping off the word “help.” It’s true that the kitchen can be a dangerous place for anyone (sharp knives, whirling blade machines, hot flames, etc!) and having children in the mix can produce a little anxiety and slow down the cooking pace. But I can honestly say that my kid loves helping in the kitchen and I truly love having her in there with me. As someone who makes a living off cooking from home, my daughter has the entire workday to explore what it means to help out and play in the kitchen. (Let’s be real: My kid also spends chunks of time with the “TV babysitter” because the single-mom-work-from-home day is long.) Here’s my strategy that makes our co-cooking kitchen time work: Give your kid real work and control the inevitable chaos.
When I say “real work,” I mean do not set your kids up in the corner of your kitchen with tubs of Play-Doh and expect them to quietly entertain themselves while you cook. They want to do some real cooking (or, at least, cooking-adjacent) tasks. Maybe they aren’t going to fillet that salmon side for you, but they can certainly pick parsley leaves off the stem, smash and peel garlic cloves, or press water out of tofu. Or, give them some real dough (if you’re making, say, pizza, pasta, pie, or tortillas)!
I set my daughter, Hazel, up with her own “station” each day (a little cutting board, some safe tools, and a few ingredients). I organize my kitchen projects on the opposite end of the counter (out of her reach). It’s key that her designated work area is small; I try to teach her that you don’t need a huge amount of space when you prep. (In a real professional kitchen, you usually only get the footprint of your cutting board!) Obviously, things get spilled and sticky and messy, but when confined to a small station, even the biggest flour explosions are manageable to clean up. I repeat: Control the inevitable chaos.
I used to make Hazel’s station accessible to her with a chair pulled up to our counter. But it was always a little nerve wracking, wondering if she might teeter herself off the side, or tip the whole thing over with a heavy lean on the chair’s back. Luckily this never happened, and when she was too little to move the chair herself, it worked. Now, she is bigger and stronger and can move furniture around to access the things she wants. To keep our co-cooking system chugging along, I needed help containing Hazel’s cooking lair and settling my safety nerves.
So I decided to give the well-loved Montessori Kitchen Helper Tower a try. This step stool has bars that prevent my kid from falling in any direction (without making it seem like a jail). It’s heavy-duty, so it won’t tip over or be easily pushed around the kitchen by a tiny tot. And it keeps Hazel safe while containing her kitchen station (and chaos) to her wingspan and the footprint of her stool.
As far as assembly, it was actually easy! Which is definitely not always the case with mail-order furniture. Following the simple instructions, it took me about 15 minutes to put it together and didn’t require additional tools. Note that those were nap minutes — if your kiddo is awake and helping, as Hazel usually is (jamming her play tools into the screw holes), you might want to double or triple that time estimate.
There’s more to love about this stool, too, like the fact it’ll grow with my child. It has three adjustable step settings, allowing your kid to use it at different heights. It’s super stable and tall enough to keep Hazel from falling (or climbing) over the bars, but it also tucks away neatly under my kitchen counter (I do, however, have a higher-than-normal counter). We use clothespins on the sides of the stool to hang things like aprons and kitchen towels. Another thing that endears this product to me is its simple style and the fact that it fits in well with the rest of my home, which is mid-century West Elm meets rustic barn.
I’ll be honest: I was a little concerned when I first put this tower together and saw the top bar — just ripe for swinging. As suspected, Hazel loves hanging from the bar (usually while making her best monkey sounds). To my great relief, it seems safe, even when improperly used for gymnastics, I think, because of its streamlined, simple design. A friend of mine has a kitchen helper tower with shaped cutouts lining the inner sides of it. I cringe every time I see her kiddo hoist her tiny body precariously high, using the cutouts as footholds.
So far, both Hazel and I love the Montessori Kitchen Helper Tower. It really has allowed my curious kitchen helper to have the “station” and space she deserves.
Do you have a favorite little helper stool? Tell us about it in the comments!