Thursday, 28 August 2014

Teaching Your Babies to Cook

     After many years of little ones, I have been shown, by them, that they can do far more than we ever expect of them. So, what can a little one of 18 months to 3 years do in the kitchen? Start off by letting them watch. Have a special chair that they can climb up on and see what you are doing. I like to have the chair so that the back is on one side, so they can use it to hold on to. If it is a little chair, then we keep the back to the cabinets so that they can't knock it over by accident.

Charlotte making dinner-age 2
 Explain to them what you are doing. Use words that they can understand. Talk, talk, talk! Name everything that you use. Let them feel it and taste it if it's not bad for them. Ask them questions! Ask them where the egg is or can he/she hand you the vanilla? Make sure that they understand safety. Most babies can be taught the word HOT. Anything dangerous should be called hot at this age. Knives are hot, stoves are hot. Say it like you mean it, too. They need to understand that hot means move away and don't touch. I usually say it quite dramatically until they instinctively move away when they hear the word.

Lining up those fish sticks. :)
     Let them hold things that you are going to use or have already used. Begin to let them help, always supervise and never leave them unattended. I usually start with stirring. Whenever I need stirring, I make sure that I ask if anyone would like to before I do it. I use a long handled spoon that I can hold the top of, if needed, to help control the speed and intensity. lol Once they are good at stirring, (That means that I don't have to hold the spoon while they do it.) I move on to allowing them to add ingredients. I measure out spices, salt, herbs, flour, etc...and allow them to add it to the bowl. Then stir. :) Once they are good at that, we work on the liquids. I'll add all liquids to a measuring cup with a spout and allow them to practice pouring. If you have an eager child, then add one liquid at a time to the cup so they can practice more than once. :) Add milk, then oil, then egg, then vanilla, etc...until they have added everything. Then stir. :)

Look at her concentration!
     Easy things that little people can do with minimal help: line fish sticks or nuggets onto a pan to be baked, wash strawberries, pick grapes off the stem, put toast in the toaster (only if it's not hot), pour frozen veggies into a bowl to be microwaved or into a pot to be steamed, line baby carrots and precut celery onto a tray, spoon dip into a small bowl and add chips or crackers to a plate, etc... anything that just means open and go, is a great way to make them feel like they are really helping in the kitchen!

Charlotte working on a salad.
     Next up, knife work! Yes, I said knife! There are some really great knives called Curious Chef that allow anyone the ability to cut things up without hurting themselves. Teach them how to hold the knife with both hands. One hand on the handle and one on the top of the blade. It will keep little fingers from getting squashed. Have them practice on cucumber slices or ones that have been cut into fourths. Bananas are great to start with too. Allow them to peel, then cut the banana into rounds. They can learn to cut the tops off strawberries, cut peppers (shiny side down), lettuce, tomatoes, snap broccoli florets off the "trees", shell peas, etc... What is important is to start with those veggies and fruits that only need a downward push to cut, then to move slowly into the veggies and fruits that need a sawing motion to cut. Once they have mastered these, they can prepare their own salads with just supervision from Mom!

Charlotte working hard. :)
     Don't forget scooping, pouring, and measuring, too. Buying a few small creamers and having them in the fridge filled with their favorite drink and milk will give them confidence to get their own drink and to serve others whenever someone is thirsty. I keep cups in a small drawer on the bottom rack of my kitchen shelves, down where anyone can reach them. They are welcome to get a cup and serve themselves anytime they are thirsty. My littlest one, is taught how to get a small cafeteria tray with a napkin in it, put it on the table, then to get a cup and finally to get her pitcher with what she'd like to drink. She is to pour over the tray to catch any spills and leave her cup on the tray to keep messes from getting out of hand. For practice, I have practical skills set up after the older kids' schooling is done for the day. One tray will be set up with beans in a creamer and a little bowl, one with a small amount of water in a creamer, a tea cup, and a sponge to wipe up the mess, and one with a small snack, a bowl, and a topping for her to pour on top. :)

Charlotte with her pouring tray.

     What to do *when* things go wrong? lol Dear, children were made to make messes! Realize that they are learning and exploring their world. Make a Plan *B* for that. I keep a supply of little spice jars filled with oats, beans, a little salt, and maybe a dried herb and keep them in my little one's kitchen for times when she just wants to dump things and make a mess. She has her space to create, make messes, and also learn to clean up afterwards. :) Make sure to buy her a broom and dustpan just her size and help her learn to clean up her messes. It won't look cleaned up after she's worked on it, but she's learning and in a few years, she'll be a wiz at the broom too. :)

Big sister was watching her, making sure she was safe.

    Finally, make it fun. Cooking is a part of life for any family. If you invest in your little ones now, they will become confident chefs in the future. Are you overwhelmed with the idea of having them in the kitchen with you? Then plan for it! When you make your grocery list for next week, plan a meal that anyone could do. Fish sticks or chicken nuggets, frozen French fries and frozen peas and corn. Then, let them do the work. Show them what to do and stand back. You'll be surprised what your little ones can do, too.

Big sister, Genevieve-age 11
A dinner that Genevieve made us all by herself! :)

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