Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cooking with Little Children

I'll admit- cooking with little ones seriously tries my patience.  The combination of too much going on all at once in my kitchen, countless dribbles, spills, recipes that sometimes don't turn out, and little tempers flaring when they feel the job allocations are unfair often makes me want to give up on the whole endeavor... for all time.
But of course there's so much that's great about cooking with children. I love the way it builds real life skills that they will draw upon later; all the educational multi-sensory experiences, and the fact that they enjoy it SO MUCH.

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


Sandibeek said...

Thanks for these suggestions.  I am guilty of doing it myself too often because of the hassle.  These suggestions might make it more fun for both me and my daughter.

Emily Muller said...

This is a good post!  My kids love helping, and I need to plan ahead more often so that they can actually do it with me.

Francine Clouden said...

These are really good tips! I want to involve my 2 year old in cooking more and these will really help!

Ripato said...

From birth I was teaching my son to cook. I used to wear him in a carrier while I cooked and talked to him about each step. Now he is 5. 1/2 and he can make simple meals for himself! He can make a grilled cheese or quesadilla on the GF grill, make a pizza lunch able in the microwave, crack eggs, follow picture recipes, and cleans up when we're done. He is a "rule follower/enforcer" so he is very safe. I love the foundation we have started. He will make some lucky gal a great husband!