During my pregnancy I daydreamed of all the things I wanted to do with the little one inside my belly. Especially sharing my passion for cooking and baking. I often imagined us in the kitchen baking muffins, making snacks or preparing family meals. I couldn’t wait for them to join me in my kitchen adventures.
When Alice was born I, like most new parents, took a break from those kitchen adventures for a few months. Instead I relied on generous family members, a well stocked freezer and basic meals made during her nap time. But once I started to get the swing of mummyhood I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and bring Alice with me.
I started by wearing her in a sling on my hip while making bread and talking to her about everything I was measuring and mixing in the bowl. I decided baking was the best entry into the kitchen for a baby since it doesn’t require knives or stove top cooking. And now that she is bigger and more involved in the process I realize that baking’s measuring, mixing and mashing provide great opportunities for Alice to participate.
Of course there are many ways your little ones can participate in baking and cooking. They can clean fruit and vegetables, knead dough, measure and mix ingredients, scramble eggs, mash bananas, potatoes, apples or avocados and even help clean up. As you go I am sure you will think of other ways to involve them.
Consider safety first and foremost with children in the kitchen and make sure there is always a supervising adult present. Be sure everyone washes their hands before handling any food to reduce the chance of contamination. Do all the chopping tasks yourself and be sure to put away the knife when you are done. When using the stove top use only the back burners when possible and always keep handles turned in. Have them stand out of the way when opening the oven door. In general I try to be aware of potential dangers while in the kitchen with my child and I do my best to remove or minimize them.
Involving our little ones in the kitchen helps to create a connection between them and us as well as between them and their food. We get to share in an experience that teaches them skills, creates pride, educates them about nutrition and allows them to be present in the process.
Teaching our children to cook for themselves and others is invaluable. Learning to cook and bake are skills they will have for the rest of their lives and will hopefully share with others.
When children cook they get to be involved in a project from beginning to end – from mixing bowl to dinner plate. Watch your little one’s face when you pull their food from the oven. Notice the sense of excitement and pride in what they made. I love how proud Alice is when she eats the bread we made together.
Cooking with our children also gives us the opportunity to influence their diets. By using as many healthy, fresh and unprocessed ingredients as possible we can teach our children about healthy choices and good eating habits. They will also have the chance to become more familiar with food in its purest form – whole, raw and unpackaged.
Taking the time to use all five senses when we cook makes us much more present in the process, and we get to share this gift of observation with our children. Next time you are cooking ask your little one what they see, hear, smell, feel and taste. What the dough looks like when you mix the water and flour, the feel of the bread dough in their hands, the sound of the spoon scraping the batter from the bowl, the smell of the bread baking and finally how delicious it tastes warm from the oven. Take the time together to enjoy the process as well as the end product.
There are a few things I have learned that make cooking easier and more fun for the both of us.
Be flexible with time When we aren’t cooking to a deadline we can make time for detours and discussions along the way instead of rushing to be done.
Be flexible with cleanliness Spills and messes are inevitable when cooking with kids so I allow for messes and think of them as a way to teach about cleaning up. I also find that using bigger bowls then necessary for mixing helps to contain spills well.
Be flexible with the end result By inviting Alice to help in the kitchen my end meal might not end up exactly how it looks in the magazine but it still tastes great.
Start with a clean and clear work space Giving myself as much room as possible to make food, and a mess, helps the process run smoothly.
Have all the ingredients and tools out and ready This saves me from having to stop and dig out ingredients as I go. Or worse yet, having to pack up my child mid cookie dough to go buy the chocolate chips I thought I had in the cupboard.
Make sure your child can see and participate I either wear Alice in a sling, sit her on a chair or stand her on a foot stool.
Talk about what you are doing This both teaches and engages my child. I find that Alice loves to talk about what we are doing. It is amazing what she picks up and remembers for next time.
Keep it simple This is not the time to try a soufflé for the first time, experiment with precious truffle oil or make a seven-course meal. I use simple, straightforward recipes and keep the tasks simple too.
Involve your child in the clean-up This teaches Alice about the whole process of making a meal.
Have fun I know it sounds cheesy but cooking and baking should be fun for both of us and by loosely following the list above it is.
So far my experience has only been cooking with a baby and now a toddler but I look forward to the years ahead and our time in the kitchen together. I am sure many of you have already started kitchen adventures with your children and spend your afternoons elbow deep in bread dough as well. But in case you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you start soon as it is never too early!
Here is a simple recipe that is easy to follow and great for little hands to mix and measure. This delicious and whole grain cake is perfect for an autumn harvest of local apples.
Adapted from The Salt Spring Experience Cookbook
2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
½ cup maple syrup
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1 ½ cups of grated apple
2 tsp vanilla extract
Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir to combine.
Spoon batter into a greased 8” x 8” baking dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes or until golden brown.
Théa spends her days with her daughter and husband playing, laughing, learning, making, doing and growing. She chronicles her kitchen and crafty adventures on her blog, mon ami, and sells her wares in her shop, i heart mon ami.