All photos are by Aimee.
I‘m sure I’m not the first mother to discover that children aren’t always happy playing on their own while mama does the cooking; usually they want to be right where the action is. Yep, right under your feet.
The good news is that by welcoming the little ones into the kitchen to cook and bake with you (instead of banishing them to the basement or TV room), you will be contributing immensely to their development.
Cooking with your children may not always be a piece of cake, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. They can learn practical skills, such as counting and measuring, along with social skills like following instructions and patience – all while fostering creativity.
I don’t have to tell you the advantages of this one-on-on nurturing time together – just think back to cooking with your mom or grandmother, and how special that felt.
I’m predicting that my son is going to make his future wife superbly happy, because he’ll know his way expertly around the kitchen. Noah and I have been cooking together ever since he was old enough to stand on a chair, and I’m proud to say he is well on his way to becoming a little chef.
So what are you waiting for? Here are six steps to help you get started.
1. Start teaching at the grocery store.
Most of us shop with the little ones in tow, so why not make it a fun and educational experience?
• Name fruit and vegetables together. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your preschoolers will pick up the names of those exotic fruits. Occasionally encourage their curiosity by letting your children pick out one new fruit to bring home.
• Include children in some decision making. For example, ask them, “Should we cook spaghetti or fusilli with our sauce tonight?” Don’t let children make demands about your purchases, but do help them feel like you’re taking their tastes into consideration.
• Show older children how to clip coupons, and teach them about cost comparisons and simple money management.
2. Set kitchen guidelines early, and never waver.
My son will inform people that “Only Mama touches knives” because I’ve drilled that into him ever since he could stand and eat raisins at the counter. These boundaries are key for your children’s safety. As soon as your babies are crawling, you are teaching them that the stove is “hot”; the same goes for any items in the kitchen that are unsuitable for little hands. Make these rules clear before any cooking or baking goes on.
And don’t forget rules for hygiene! Teach your children about basic food-safe actions we can take, such as hand washing, and covering our mouths for sneezing and coughing.
3. Set yourself up properly.
• Provide your children with an apron – trust me, your laundry lady with thank you (oh wait, that’s probably you). Wearing an apron is also useful for signaling the beginning and end of “cooking time.”
• Make sure cookbooks, your phone, and everything you will need are in place, so you never have to leave the room to fetch something – thus leaving your children unattended.
• Provide duplicates of a few of your kitchen utensils for your child. Most children won’t be appeased with toy versions, but want to use exactly what mom is using. Items like spatulas, whisks, and measuring cups are affordable and safe for little hands, and provide a great source of entertainment to boot!
• Keep quick clean-up solutions close by, such as paper towels, dry dish towels, and a warm cloth for spills or overly sticky fingers – including yours.
4. Talk, taste, and sing a little.
• Talk: Children are sponges for information. In simple terms, always explain what you are making. Talk about each ingredient, where it comes from and what makes it special. Guide them through the task at hand in a way they can easily understand.
• Taste: Let your children taste anything they want. This is a safe, controlled environment where they can explore ingredients and educate their senses. Explain about sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy parts of the tongue and taste buds. Don’t worry, they won’t be dipping into the baking soda anytime soon behind your back.
• Sing: We love to make up songs as we work, or we enjoy old favourites such as “Biscuits in the oven” or “I like to eat (eat, eat) apples and bananas.” It brings a lighthearted and fun atmosphere into the kitchen.
5. Give small tasks to your children.
Children want to help and be involved. Sometimes all I hear myself saying is “Don’t touch that. Leave that alone. BE careful!”, and it’s usually because I have not given my son a specific task with boundaries. Once he is occupied with something, I can proceed with what I need to do.
Here are just a few things that keep my three-year-old busy:
• Tearing, washing, and drying lettuce
• Peeling vegetables, snapping beans, shucking corn
• De-stemming grapes, strawberries,
• Rolling meatballs
• Sifting flour
• Cracking and beating eggs
• Transporting items to and from the fridge
• Grating cheese
• Rolling dough
• Making fruit salad
• Assembling sandwiches
• Greasing pans
6. End with clean-up.
Don’t let your children slip away to play as soon as dinner is popped into the oven. Now is the perfect time to teach them to see a task through from beginning to en,d and that clean-up can be a fun part of cooking too! Have them rinse the dishes or unload the dishwasher.
If all the clean-up is for an adult (washing a blender or sharp knives, for example), then enlist their help to set the table.
My wish is that you discover the valuable blessings of including your children in your kitchen time. The lessons learned and the laughs shared will last you a lifetime.
And don’t forget: Praise is invaluable, as is plenty of patience on your part.
To end, here is one of our favourite cookie recipes to whip up (not to mention my most requested recipe from friends!). We work together to assemble the ingredients, and then we speed through the shaping, thanks to Noah. He helps me roll them in sugar and place them on the pan.
(adapted from Joy of Cooking)
Makes 4 dozen
Preheat the oven to 325F. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Cream together until light:
- 3/4 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
Sift together and add to butter mixture:
- 3-3/4 cups flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (or 3 teaspoons ground)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon grated Tonka bean (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix well and roll into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in white sugar to coat, and place two inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until tops have cracked and edges start to brown. Cool a few minutes on the pan, then loosen with a spatula and transfer to a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container. These cookies freeze very well.
For a softer, chewier cookie, remove from the oven while centers are still slightly undercooked.
Do your kids participate with you in the kitchen? Do tell!