Monday, October 19, 2009

Tips for Cooking with Toddlers/Preschoolers

Earlier I wrote about how important it is to involve kids in meal preparations. Yet it is not easy. Cooking with young kids can take significantly longer than if we adults just do it ourselves. It isn't easy to convince older kids to cook with us instead of doing whatever is more enjoyable to them (I can only guess since my kids are young and I only teach older kids). And let's be real: it isn't practicable to cook together every day of the week.

Since I only have experience cooking with toddlers and preschoolers, I thought I'd write about what has worked for me and Caleb. Maybe it will give you some ideas you'd like to share with me!

1) Start simple and with something familiar.
Caleb started helping in the kitchen by washing vegetables. The first thing he helped to cook was probably instant oatmeal. We soon moved to brownie mixes, and he helped to stir by holding the top of a large spoon while he gripped it lower on the handle.

2) Make cooking steps accessible.
That is, can your kid reach the counter somehow? We use either a folding step stool or one of our kitchen chairs. When Caleb made his own oatmeal, he didn't know how much water to add. We set out a measuring cup for him. When that cup wasn't available, we gave him the next smaller size and explained to use it twice. See? Math skills! :) But my real point here is to find ways to make cooking possible, doable for your kid.

3) Let them taste ingredients.
If you think an ingredient will hurt your kid, should you be using it? Other than really hot peppers, Caleb has tried everything from flour, sugar and salt to raw onions. I let him taste different herbs and spices too. Here Caleb is at about a year old, sampling an onion.

I'm sort of hoping his experimentation will help him develop an intuition about food which I lack somewhat.

4) Take the time to answer and ask questions.
Ask your child(ren) what they think something is for. Answer their questions with both answers and questions. I believe it is through this dialogue that we connect with our children. This dialogue validates their curiosity so that they will want to learn and do more.

5) Make it FUN!
For Caleb, this meant being able to use my electric cooking tools like the hand mixer or pushing the buttons on the food processor. For Ellie, this means looking at a pot of boiling pasta and telling me it's hot or that it's PAAASSTAAAA. For both of my kids, it means getting samples of the ingredients and getting to try the final product. You need to figure out what makes it fun for your kids. Maybe your kids want to pick what you cook. Maybe your kids like to gather ingredients or clean up after (Caleb enjoys cleaning the counters - weird.). Figure it out and use it to your advantage to make wonderful cooking memories.

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