September 11, 2009

Have Fun in the Kitchen with your Kids

*He really loves helping me bake!

*Shucking corn is one of Aaron's summertime favorites!

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy having the big boy help me in the kitchen. It keeps him happily entertained, and I believe he learns from it as well. Here are some of my thoughts about how to get your toddler involved in the kitchen.

1. Start at the grocery store. The big boy loves going to the store with me. Ever since he could point, he's loved going and learning the names of everything that goes into our cart. The produce section is the favorite, of course. At 2 1/2, he knows the names of everything from avocado to zucchini.

2. Ask for his input to meal planning. When it comes to dinnertime, it is what it is. But I will often allow him some choices when planning ahead. Such as, "should we have zucchini or peas with our pasta?" (It's almost always peas, but sometimes he surprises me.) And although I'm more strict with dinner, I do offer choices for breakfast and lunch. ("Oatmeal or waffles", "turkey sandwich or grilled cheese") I don't want him to be able to demand what he wants, but giving him a choice sometimes can help him get more excited about getting to the table and eating his meal.

3. Establish kitchen rules. And be consistent. The big boy knows that "only Mommy touches knives", and "never touch the oven/stove".

4. Have kid-friendly cooking supplies. There are some things they won't be able to use - anything breakable, the blender, etc, but there are lots of items in the kitchen that they can use. Cookie sheets, baking pans, spatulas, mixing spoons, salad spinner (one of A's favorites!)... I don't think "toy" supplies are necessary at all, and they want to use the real thing anyway.

5. Find ways to get your child involved in the cooking process. Start small, with tasks such as pushing the top of the salad spinner to help dry the lettuce. But very quickly, you'll be able to dole out more tasks, with your supervision of course. These include:
- Tearing lettuce
- Shucking corn or preparing other vegetables (de-stemming, etc.)
- Rinsing fruits/vegetables
- Measuring ingredients (with close supervision - A scoops, I smooth out the top with a knife, and he pours it in the bowl)
- Cracking and beating eggs (a current favorite)
- Opening packages
- Stirring

6. Don't forget clean-up. Aaron has loved washing dishes since he could stand on the chair in front of the sink. It's not exactly environmentally-friendly, having the faucet run while he rinses dishes for me, but we've both gotten better about getting it done more quickly. He rinses the dishes, I load into the dishwasher. And speaking of, he also likes helping me unload the dishwasher - he can put the silverware away and stack his (plastic) bowls and plates for me.

7. Have fun! I have a lot of fun when the big boy is engaged in the process with me. You obviously have to have patience. Provide a lot of praise along the way. Talk about everything you're doing. It's amazing how quickly they absorb information. And be silly - sing songs and make it fun!

I hope that by doing these things, he will continue to learn, he'll appreciate the effort that goes into his meals, and he'll eventually enjoy cooking himself!

*He was definitely interested in our preparation of a lobster dinner. He stayed hands-off on that one, though.

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