Baking and cooking is a part of our family’s everyday rhythm. Together, my 21 month-old son and I knead bread, chop vegetables, make fruit salads, bake muffins and prepare dinners. Although many parents may feel nervous including young children in a process that involves boiling water, hot ovens and sharp knives, I have found it develops in them a natural understanding of the potential dangers in the kitchen and most importantly a deep respect and appreciation for how food is prepared and made. Involving children in the cooking process encourages them to try new tastes and textures and to be more interested in a variety of new and healthy foods. Instead of dinner being an abrupt occurrence, my little one is involved in the sometimes slow and detailed preparation and transition from fridge to table.
As with many young ones, it all began with baking. Baking is an easy way to involve your child with quick and easy results. Muffins, cakes and cookies can often be whipped up in under 20 minutes- the perfect amount of time for a short attention span and a hungry tummy. I try to keep a few things in mind when baking with my son. I choose a day when I know I am going to mop the floors so that I don’t fuss over any mess. This is because I believe it is important not to control the process too much- so what if things don’t go into the bowl in the right order, there’s flour on the floor or the way the child is stirring makes you think the ingredients may well end up all over his shirt instead of in the bowl? He will appreciate the trust you put in him and the sense of independence he gains by doing it himself. As he is still young, I measure the ingredients out into cups and let him pour each one into the bowl, counting aloud as each one goes in. As they grow older children can measure the ingredients out themselves and turn the oven on, organically teaching them concepts in addition and subtraction as well as lending to conversations about basic physics and chemistry.
Preparing dinner together is another way to get your child involved and interested in healthy meals. When they are young you can explain what you’re making and involve them in each step as appropriate for their age level. My little one helps to wash vegetables, grate cheese, crack and whip eggs and pour water into the pot. He understands that he must keep his distance and his hands away when I am chopping. I often separate a small piece of each of the vegetables I am preparing for him to taste raw, even if I know he’ll end up spitting it out onto the counter. It keeps him involved and he also learns the difference in taste and texture between something cooked and uncooked. At almost two, many children are unaware of how to use a knife safely and are not allowed to chop themselves until much later, however my son is now wielding a child’s sized butter knife with precise skill after months of watching me with my own set. I’m not encouraging that a young child can be trusted with such a dangerous object, but with proper supervision and guidance they will be able to begin creating meals for themselves safely and with ease.
If you would like to get an older child involved in the cooking process, start with a small gift to pique their interest- perhaps a homemade apron, a set of their own measuring cups and spoons or evens a chef’s hat. Encourage them to taste and smell as they cook and to experiment with spices and herbs, this not only involves them in the creative process but stimulates their appetites and prepares their tiny stomachs for what is to come. Some days dinner preparation may be considered a chore, but it should really be seen as a daily miracle and blessing. Because of this simple daily ritual, my little one has learned to count, can name a variety of fruits and vegetables and above all else appreciates the ancient art of making a homecooked meal with care and love.
Children love to be involved in the clean-up process as well. The following simple homemade dish soap recipe can be made at home with your favorite essential oils, and provide your child with lots of gentle suds for dish cleaning.
Homemade Dish Soap
2 cups liquid castille
1/2 cup warm water
4-5 drops essential lemon oil
Pour ingredients together into a squeeze bottle and shake.
Meagan is a mother to two (one brand new), a writer, a yoga teacher, an animal rights activist, an English teacher and and a self-confessed bake-a-holic. When she’s not adventuring outdoors with her little one or curled up on the couch reading a book, you’ll find her sipping a soy chai whilst writing articles for her green family blog, ecoMILF.