I have gradually been getting better in this area. I'm learning some tricks along the way that make things run more smoothly, and of course when things go well I want to cook with them more frequently.
This morning we baked Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies at the suggestion of my sister-in-law. (There are some unique twists to the recipe that make it fun for little hands)
As we were working, I found our experience the usual combination of delightful and ugly. It got me reflecting on what makes for good cooking experiences with M and G. These are the thoughts I came up with:
1. Bigger mixing bowls- easier for little hands to stir without spilling
2. Starting with a clean kitchen to begin with. Seems counter- intuitive because they are just going to mess it up anyway, but contributes to my feeling of peace and control.
3. Feeling free to ask them to just watch for a while. Sometimes I forget how much they can enjoy that- what would be boring for me is magical alchemy to them-especially when I remember to talk about each step of what I am doing.
4. Instructing them ahead of time to wait for instructions. They are usually so excited to be involved that they are tempted to jump right in with their "help." Of course, their unchecked impulses lead to aggravation 90% of the time. If I remind them ahead of time that there will be times when they will need to be patient, it's amazing how much differently they act.
5. Thinking ahead of time of what tasks in the recipe will work for little hands.
6. Assigning each child a station- a place to be so they don't crowd me or each other.
7. Being creative about finding super simple tasks for them. One of my favorites is asking G to go watch the cookies (or whatever) bake in the oven for me. She takes the job very seriously and loves to watch the baked goods rise. Or I may ask M to separate out the wet and dry ingredients for me on the counter so they're ready to go into two different bowls.
8. Picking the right times. If I'm short on time, if it really matters how it turns out, or if I'm not confident about the recipe for any reason, I won't usually allow help.
9. Treating the clean-up time afterward as part of the cooking process, involving them in it when I can, but allowing them to watch me do it even when they can't contribute. Sometimes I've felt tempted to just leave the mess and move on to something different for a while, coming back to clean after the girls are down for a nap, etc. But I've been realizing that the habit is not good for me or them. They need a realistic view of cooking (that it's not all play) and I need to keep on top of my cleaning so I'm not buried at nap time.
10. Periodically announcing little "play breaks" for one or both of them. Gives me a chance to regroup.
What works well for you in the kitchen with your children? Have you discovered cooking tasks particularly well-suited for toddlers or preschoolers? Please share!
Works for Me Wednesday