I have gotten a bunch of mentions recently, mostly in passing, about how I cook with Anna. I absolutely love having my little helper in the kitchen, and although I don't let her help me all the time, I think cooking with me gives Anna fantastic learning experiences. We learn patience, we learn to measure, we learn to follow directions, we learn numbers and vocabulary, and we learn how things taste and smell. We talk about where food comes from, and if we are lucky, she gets to help me pick it straight from the garden. We even learn a little basic chemistry although I'm not sure how much of that she understands, haha. We also learn about service to others, as we often cook dinner for friends and families with new babies or recent hardships. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen and it's natural for my children to want to share those experiences with me.
Cooking with a toddler (and especially now with a baby in the background) can be quite overwhelming, so I decided to document a few of my tips that help make the process more enjoyable. Every time I start to herd Anna out of the kitchen, I remind myself that she just wants to be with me and wants to be like Mommy, and I try to take it as a compliment that she wants to be with me and learning everything I have to teach her!
So, without further ado, here are some Cooking with Toddler 101 Tips!
1) SAFETY FIRST!!!! Extra capital letters!!! I always triple check the kitchen to make sure pot handles are turned around, knives are out of reach, long sleeves are pushed back, etc. before Anna comes in. I coach her on respecting heat and utensils, and the second she starts disobeying me or acting recklessly, she's outta there. Give your child a stool or a chair or something so she can safely reach the counter and make sure she knows the stove and oven are off limits. No matter how valuable the cooking lessons are, it's not worth potential injury, so seriously, safety first.
2) Read and think! Read through your recipe several times and actively think about where your toddler can help. Where can they pour? Where can they stir? What parts should they not be involved in? Think on their level and you will see where they can help...they don't need to be involved in every single step, a little involvement can go a long way!
3) Preparation is key. Have ingredients measured out, have things pre-chopped, have ingredients, utensils, pots and pans out, prepped and ready to go. Anna loves helping me pour into bowls and pans, and stirring things in pans, and that process is so much easier when I have everything ready for her assistance.
4) Break it down. One trick I use with Anna's limited attention span is to do a mini version of the finished product. A few weeks ago, when we made peach hand pies, I had her finish a tray with just three pies on it. Then I said "Okay, all done, big helper!" and shipped her off to the play room. She felt satisfied and confident, and I got to finish the rest of the pies in peace. Letting her put together all the pies would have been excruciatingly slow and frustrating, so why not cut it short where we are both happy? Even if it is less efficient oven-wise, it is much better in the long run.
5) Talk it out. Enjoy the process! Explain what ingredients and utensils are. Let your child smell and taste raw ingredients (if it is safe to do so). Let them try their hand at rolling and stirring. Embrace the mess and inefficiency because your memories of this day are going to last much longer than the flour all over your floor will!