More and more children are asking to get in on the action in the kitchen. Although peeling carrots and boiling water may seem like a chore, to kids the kitchen presents a culinary playground, and they want in! To help you thrive rather than barely survive while preparing meals with your children, what follows is an action plan for cooking up delicious fun with toddlers.
First and foremost, teach kitchen hygiene. While this may seem evident, wash hands and clean the counter space with your child because this is a great opportunity to talk about yucky germs. Gross but true, if your child doesn’t know why you’re cleaning, he or she doesn’t have a reason to do it when you’re not there. Let’s face it, toddlers cough and sneeze on each other and in their food. Teaching this lesson early is worth reducing the crying, sleepless nights when your child gets sick.
Thinking about kitchen safety and toddlers might spur the phrase, “Get away from the stove, now!” But, there is actually a place to cook with your kids without shouts and fears. When children are 2 to 6 years old, consider cooking at a counter top or dining table. There is no reason to be at the oven explaining braising to a toddler when the tot’s objective is to use the spatula without a parent’s assistance. Dust off the mixing bowls, measuring cups, spoons and ingredients; you can make more than you think before you break a sweat at the stove. There is prep involved in nearly everything you make, and it’s the time mixing, measuring and creating that Mini Me adores.
Just as we tell our children to practice patience, we as adults need to find some too when it comes to food. Cooking takes time, whether you buy frozen dinners or make dinner from scratch. It dually takes time to prepare food. Don’t fret, this doesn’t mean more work for you. If you can carve out an hour to cook, this presents a great mommy-and-me activity as well as enough time to make a variety of meals, desserts and snacks. You have to eat dinner anyway, why not get cooking? After all, by cooking dinner at home, you save money. Ordering in food for a family of four can cost the same amount as making dinner for that family for a week.
It’s impossible to measure the value of spending time with your child, especially when whipping up abundant love and good food simultaneously. Cooking is a true opportunity for quality time and bonding. You can get so much more mileage out of the question “How was your playdate (or a day at school)?” when Mini Me is rolling out dough as you do some meal prep alongside your child. And along with the significant emotional benefits, the external benefits are enormous. You can practice fine motor skills, vocabulary, counting, sharing and communication all while you make the quiche du jour. Plus, cooking a variety of foods encourages toddlers to try a variety of foods.
While I love cookbooks, they can cause information overload. Here is our kid tested and approved dough recipe that can be used for an array of foods. In a mixing bowl, mix one tablespoon of dry yeast with three-quarters of a cup of warm water and let rest for ten minutes. In a separate mixing bowl, add one cup of whole-wheat flour, one cup all-purpose flour, one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of sugar. Then stir. In the flour bowl, make a hole or well in the center to pour in the wet ingredients. Use your hands to begin the kneading process of mixing the ingredients until they form a large dough ball. Then add one tablespoon of olive oil to coat the dough. By now, your child should be up to his eyeballs in dough and cheering with delight— I never said it wasn’t going to be messy. Let the dough rise one hour under plastic wrap, and knead again. Add a little more water or flour depending on how sticky or dry the dough is. Pull off meatball-sized portions and enjoy shaping the dough into triangle pizzas, letter-shaped pretzels or animals. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake your little chef’s masterpiece for 15 minutes.
Put away that Easy-Bake Oven because you’ve got your action plan and your child to help with dinner tonight. Get set to bond, have fun, teach and feed the family. With our children yearning to be near us and touch everything that’s not a toy, are we really surprised that our kids might make pretty good sous chefs with opinions to share?