Cooking with children. Looking through our family pictures, we have a lot of pictures of our children cooking. This partly reflects that it’s one of the few times they are sitting still long enough to actually take a picture, but also that cooking together is an activity that we do frequently that everyone enjoys.
Building on “Kids. Food. Cooking.”– based on what happens in our kitchen, here are some tasks that our children can help with at different ages.
First, some helpful equipment and prep work. Have a sturdy step stool or other way the child can comfortably (and safely) reach the counter. Extra measuring cups & spoons – ones with different colors for each measurement are nice so a child who can’t read but knows colors can use (or hand to you) the correct cup or spoon. If you have more than one child, have enough bowls and mixing spoons so that EVERYONE can have a spoon to lick at the end. Depending on the children, giving them their own bowls for mixing may reduce some of the jostling over taking turns and sharing. Think through the recipe in advance to identify steps that children can help with (however small) and your cooking strategy.
18 months old (toddler)
Dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl
Mix using a fork or a spoon
Shake – things like cinnamon, salt, other spices / seasonings
Mash a very ripe banana using a fork
Break cookies or crackers
Punch down yeast bread after rise (LOVES to do this!)
Pat / press cookie dough in to pan (such as for bar cookies)
Spread sauce for pizza
Scoop batter into pan (super messy but fun!)
Hold adult’s hand when using an electric mixer
Help put groceries away
When the toddler starts to throw his spoon on the floor and/or flour at his brother, I know he’s done and it’s time for diversionary tactics. When possible, I set each kid up with their own work station at the table. I like to use a cutting board for each child; it’s a good size and makes cleanup relatively easy. Set the younger child up with their own materials, such as some cookie dough and various cookie cutters and other tools. Let the younger child go for it with “making cookies”. Odds are, none of the “cookies” that the toddler makes will actually be edible, but he’ll have a great time and hopefully let the older child actually make cookies without interfering too much. When our toddler gets tired of this activity, he can usually be distracted with some other form of “helping”. In our house, that’s giving him the swiffer and letting him “clean” the floors.
4.5 year old (preschooler)
All of the above, plus:
Help roll out cookie dough
Cut cookies using cookie cutters
Make balls of dough (cookies, bread, etc)
Shape cookies (such as press thumbprint into ball of cookie dough, then fill with jam)
Make snakes of dough
Braid bread dough
Measure dry ingredients (with some help)
Scoop batter into pan (muffins, cupcakes, etc.)
Decorate cupcakes / cakes
Cut soft foods using a table knife
Chop using a mezzaluna and wooden bowl
What are some of the things YOUR child does with you in your kitchen?
This really isn’t a blog about kids and food, or kids and cooking. But I have two kids who need to eat and like to cook, so the reality is that I think about these topics a lot.
First things first. Breastmilk is the perfect “first food” for babies. Some is better than none. There are lots and lots of other great websites that get into politics and activism – I’m not going to go there, just pass on some resources I’ve found helpful:
AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding
World Health Organization – Breastfeeding
CDC Breastfeeding Report Card (2010)
Kellymom – evidence-based information on breastfeeding
Infant Risk Center – evidence-based information on the use of medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding
La Leche League Mother-to-Mother support forums
Stanford University Newborn Nursery – great resources, including maximizing milk production
Starting solids. We chose to take the approach of offering baby (when developmentally ready) appropriate foods and then letting baby self feed and decide what and how much to eat. Basically skipping purees and going directly to finger foods. Lots of fun, lots of mess (but all baby eating is messy) and very low stress. One baby liked exploring solids but didn’t really get into eating until around 8.5 months or so, the other was enthusiastic about eating solids right from the start. Interested in learning more? Check out these resources (and don’t be alarmed by the word “weaning” – this is just the British English word for starting solids):
baby led weaning guidelines
blog & links to resources
Great resources no matter how you start solids:
Whatever approach YOU choose to take with starting solids, I HIGHLY recommend taking an Infant CPR class. Check for classes at your local YMCA or community center.
Toddlers and older. I heartily agree with what I’ve read several places that your main responsibility as parents is to offer healthy foods and model good food choices. I’ll add to that … and stay calm! Even very young toddlers seem to KNOW that their parents want / need them to eat, and somehow figure out that NOT eating is a way to get attention and push every parental “button”. Be patient. Keep offering healthy foods. Be patient. Despite what it may seem, kids generally DO get all the nutrition they need over the course of a couple days or even a week. Kids go through “picky” stages. It’s all okay and all normal. Some reading / resources:
NYT – 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make
NPR – To Win Toddler Food Battles, Take A Softer Approach
Let’s Move – Michelle Obama’s initiative “to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition”
My Pyramid for preschoolers (2 – 5 years old)
Kids in the kitchen. Yes – absolutely a great idea! Cooking with our kids, I’ve learned to expect that a recipe will take at least twice as long to make, to let go of my ideas of how things are “supposed” to go, that mess is okay, and that (almost) everything is washable. Take your kids grocery shopping and/or to a farmers’ market. If you can – plant even a small garden (lots of things grow well in large pots). Start cooking young – as soon as your toddler is old enough to stand on a step stool and follow simple instructions. Break a recipe into small tasks that even a very young child can do – like dumping ingredients into a bowl and mixing. A slightly older child can start using a plastic knife to cut fruit or other soft foods. Oh – and if you’ve got more than one kid – definitely make sure that each child has their OWN spoon to lick! One of the best kid items we’ve gotten is a “Learning Tower” – big step stool with rails. Both kids fit in it, and they actually usually get along okay.