I too love having Wee One help but mealtime prep isn't always a kid-friendly time for help. Be it hot ovens, flaming stove tops, or sharp knives, there are a number of safety hazards I must consider in order to protect my budding chef.
Here are my tips for cooking with kids:
- I often ask my girl what she would like to have for ____________ (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack). I offer 2 - 3 options based on the ingredients we have on hand. She is a more enthusiastic participant when she gets to choose and likes what we are preparing.
- I make sure we wash our hands together to stress the importance of food safety. It is never to early to start! This cute video teaches kids about proper hand washing techniques.
- We put on our super cool aprons to protect our clothes. She LOVES her apron from Williams Sonoma.
- I try to introduce my kids to a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, grains and dairy products. I also use REAL food, rather than engineered/convenience products, and talk about the growers who produced the food. As an Agricultural Educator, I think of this as another opportunity to teach my kids about agriculture.
- I pull out all of the ingredients and utensils needed to prevent a lot of running around the kitchen. This allows me to stay focused on my girl. As she grows, I will have her read the recipe to me as I gather to further integrate her into the process.
- I keep the environment happy and light. Will things get messy? You bet! Will we end up having to re-count or re-measure? Yep! Just laugh and make sure you schedule plenty of time so the rest of the family isn't waiting to be fed. I also provide lots of feedback and positive conversation to prevent frustration and stress.
- I also use the time to teach and reinforce practical math, listening and processing skills. Since my girl does not yet know how to read, I read the directions and then ask her what we need to do. I also have her count as we add 1, 2, 3... of something. She loves participating and I love teaching.
- All chopping with knives, bringing things in and out of the oven, and most stovetop cooking are done by me. If something can be cut using a butter knife or plastic knife (ie. chopping strawberries), it is delegated. As she grows in skill and confidence, she can begin to take on more of these responsibilities with adult supervision.
- I have Wee One help plate before we serve. This way, she can take even more ownership over the meal AND sees the end result of her efforts.
- In our family, we make sure we praise Wee One's efforts while enjoying the dish. Everyone takes turns thanking her for her delicious efforts. She eats her meal with a smile, often cleaning the plate!
A particular favorite of my girl's is Breakfast for Dinner. Mini German Pancakes with Fresh Berry Compote is always a hit and she can do virtually all of the prep! We serve them with bacon to make Daddy happy. Who am I kidding... we serve them with bacon to make EVERYONE happy!!
Mini German Pancakes with Fresh Berry Compote
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Zest from one orange (1 tsp +/-)
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease two muffin tins well and set aside.
Using a blender, add the first 6 ingredients and blend until smooth. Ask your little helper to man the machine and tell you when all of the flour has been incorporated. Add butter a little at a time to temper eggs.
Evenly distribute batter to muffin tins (slightly less than half full). Hint: using an emptied and cleaned plastic catsup bottle to fill the tins, makes this job easy for little hands. Bake for 15 minutes or until puffy and golden. Remove from tins and serve pancakes while still warm.
Fresh Berry Compote
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup blackberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen)
Juice from 1 orange
2 tbsp water
Sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries - a couple of tablespoons to 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp cornstarch
Add berries to saucepan with juice and a little water. Turn on medium heat and cook until berries begin to burst. Blend sugar and cornstarch together so no lumps remain. Add to the pot and continue cooking for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to allow mixture to thicken a bit. Serve over Mini German Pancakes and top with fresh whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar.