Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cooking with your Kid (PART 1)

By Mimi Hecht

or "How I Involved my Toddler in Dinner Prep and Why it was a Treat for us Both"

I typically spend a lot of emotional energy keeping my two active boys occupied while I prepare dinner between 3 and 4 o'clock. I move very quickly in the kitchen and like to whisk around grabbing things from the fridge, chopping and sautéing.  More specifically, having the curiosity of Shney (2 1/2 years old) getting into the fridge and Dovi (13 months) exploring the pots and pans is not my idea of playtime. And certainly not when I just want to get dinner prep done with. (Yes, I know that it sounds like I might need a lesson in dinner organization to help relieve this stress...and you would be right.)

But one evening last week, I had a realization that has already completely changed and uplifted my evenings as a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom. 

Instead of "shunning" Shney from the kitchen and going to great lengths to make sure he's out of my way, I decided "What the hey, let's do this together." 

Now, let me be clear here, in the name of honesty. I am NOT one of those moms who would excel as a kindergarten teacher. I get bored after an hour of playing with my kids. I can often be quite selfish, finding ways for my kids to entertain themselves as opposed to climbing into their world. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids. But I also love playgroup, babysitters and Baby Einstein. So in short, it certainly was not my first instinct to try and incorporate a messy and bossy toddler into my dinner prep. Honestly, this probably happened I was in an exceptionally good mood. 

So on a whim I gave Shney the front seat to making baked potato/sweet potato "fries." 
It would take patience...
...but it would pay off!

Let's do it!
(Alternate title: Time to wash those hands 
that have been God-knows-where today!)

First thing you need is a kid stool. Cooking with your kid is impossible without it! The stool brought Shney into mommy's world so he didn't feel any limitations of little land.  We have a Mommy's Helper Step Up Non-Slip Froggie Stepstool and we love it! 


Watchu lookin' at? I'm making dinner!

First, Shney helped me decide how many potatoes to use. So already, we were learning about "too little" and "too much." And the amount we chose also allowed us to enthusiastically practice counting to 10 :)  

After I peeled the potatoes, Shney washed each one and handed it back to me: "All clean!"Then I started cutting them. But even though he can't actually handle the knife, I let him do some decision making as I sliced each potato. Should I cut it this way? That way? Is this too big? Should we cut it some more? I was delighted that he actually had an opinion about the size of the fries. He definitely favored the thicker variety, so I went with it.  


As I finished cutting, he moved all the sliced potatoes into the pan. 

Now it was spicing time. Shney dumped all the fries into a large bowl, which he chose himself.

Instead of creating a disaster by having him pour straight from the oil and spices (been there, done that—maybe we'll try again after he's three :)), I measured amounts into a plastic cup. He had fun spicing it up, like a painter deciding where the color should go, and how much. A few times he said "Mommy, more salt!" and "No more paprika!" (yes, we learned a new word!) and I would listen obediently and supply the goods. This was totally in his hands. Literally.


Next up: mixing! Of course, Shney has helped me mix in the kitchen before, but it was always a fight to get him to actually stop and let me move on with my hurried kitchen ways. But this time, because he was so involved in the entire process and all the decisions, he only mixed as needed. When all the potatoes were covered, I was amazed when he announced "Finished mixing!" and indeed it was totally ready! No need for mommy's signature "let me finish that off, kid." He's a pro. 


He then scooped all the potatoes back into the pans. He had already pre-heated the oven by turning the dials earlier (I used my confectioner oven because he can't normally reach the dials and it's easier to see the food baking). I put the pans in and now all we had to do was...wait! 

Now, normally "wait" is a very dreaded word around here, especially as it relates to food. I include myself in this category, of course, although my impatience is not of the tantrum variety. While the fries were baking, Shney took pride in continuously checking the oven and asking me, "Are my potatoes finished?" and answering on his own, "No, they're still hot." 

When Shney realized we were done with the hands-on food prep, he quickly looked around and came up with a way to stay in the kitchen and help out: 


      Yes, I will be showing him this photo when he's a teenager. 

If you "like" LadyMama on Facebook, you know from my earlier post that this area needs a little bit more finessing. 

After some dish washing (aka Noah's flood), playing with toys and going back and forth to check the oven, Shney was thrilled when he heard the DING! I took out the pan and showed them to Shney, who was quite obviously impressed with his work: 


He was very excited to to eat his potato creations, with his choice of cottage cheese and (...drumroll please...) cucumbers!


This experience taught me what I already know but have a harder time practicing: 

Having the patience to engage your child is always a win-win for child AND parent. 

Here are my 10 reasons why Shney will continue to join me in the kitchen: 

1. Shney took the lead and felt like a big boy! Shney learned that I trust his decisions. His opinion about sizing the fries and how much to spice was met with mommy's agreement and I can tell it gave him the best feeling. 
2. Mommy felt good using this usually-annoying time as an opportunity to bond. Major boost in mommy-morale.
3. Shney learned that helping in the kitchen is a fun process, not just a necessary activity to get to an end.
4. Not gonna lie, the dreaded evening hours pass more quickly. Total incentive! 
5. Shney started getting a handle on kosher: the blue sponge is for milk, red for meat and so on.
6. I feel more patient making dinner. Not rushing around to get it done and over with. I viewed it as a real opportunity on every front and was totally present (except for the very-necessary pictures, of course). 
7. Shney learned that making food takes time. He waited patiently for the potatoes to be finished. No whining! 
8. This was OUR time. Mommy and Shney. As a bonus, the free time was great for Dovi (13 months). He played with his toys independently and was happy not getting clobbered by his big bro who was busy making magic in the kitchen. 
9. Shney sat down to eat so enthusiastically and finished his meal easier than ever! Good enough reason to always have him as my permanent co-chef :) 

And last but certainly not least...
10. You can't deny that the meal he ate was filled with wholehearted intent, fun and love

Stay tuned for PART 2  of "Cooking with your Kid"
featuring "Busy In Brooklyn" star Chanie Apfelbaum!

Thanks for visiting and joining my search to be a 
SMART (stylish, spiritual and) SANE 

2 LadyMama voices:

Rivki @ Life in the Married Lane said... [Reply to comment]

I absolutely LOVE this Mimi! You highlighted all the best parts of including your kid in the kitchen, and this post is just fantastic on SO many levels. Kol hakavod!

Currently, my toddler inclusion is a little complicated, since his 18-month-old brother wants to join us in the kitchen, and then it's more of a distract-the-baby-while-including-the-big-boy strategy for me. A little stressful, but this phase will pass, and maybe I can have them BOTH help me. If I can swing that, I will make a post. Promise. Bli never.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Great post! I've always wanted to do this but I don't see how its practical with a 2.5 and 1.5 yr old? (and infant, but that's not the problem!) It doesn't seem that it would work so well with 2 kids. Any advice/tips?