Written by Julie
Wednesday, 25 February 2009 23:14
Before I had a child of my own, it never occurred to me that there were ways children could be helpful in the kitchen during meal preparation. But to my surprise and delight, I’ve discovered a few ways in which my 2 ½ year old can help me and—better yet—learn something about the process of cooking along the way.
A few rules in our house: we don’t allow knives on the counter near children, so any dicing happens when little fingers are far away from the cutting board. The stove and oven are completely off-limits. Occasionally, we will hold up our child from a safe distance so he can see whatever chemical process is occurring (the cake is rising, the soup is boiling), but we don’t allow him anywhere near the burners or griddle.
Meal planning is something our son likes to help with. We show him the cookbooks we’re consulting, and we read the recipes to him. Sometimes he is more interested than others (any recipe involving pie or cookies garners extra attention), but generally, he is intrigued by the number of ingredients and the name of whatever it is we’re cooking. His appreciation gets extra reinforcement at the grocery store, when we’re looking for and buying what we need to make our meals. Sometimes some of the cooking process can begin in the store…we usually give our little guy some onions to “peel” while we’re shopping, so we don’t have to do that entirely at home.
Not every recipe recommends itself for young helpers, but parts of any recipe can be modified to accommodate young prep chefs. Here’s an incomplete list of activities my son regularly helps us do…generally with our assistance, but sometimes entirely on his own:
Grease the pan
Cut out (bread or cookie shapes, with child-friendly cuttters)
Press down (anything works here)
Rip up (herbs)
Spin the salad spinner
Grate the cheese
Sprinkle cheese, sugar, or other toppings on recipes
Identify the right spices in our spice drawer for a recipe
We have a sturdy, skid-proof stepstool, a waterproof apron, and a miniature chef’s toque that he sometimes insists on wearing while preparing food.
Anytime my son is mixing or stirring or whisking, I use extra-large bowls so that I don’t have to worry about the contents of the bowl flying out on the counter. The larger bowls require a bit more washing, but involve less mess on the floor, counter, cupboards, etc.
My son is fascinated by dynamic cooking activities. He loves using our electric juicer to make juice (see linked video), pressing the button on top of the salad spinner, stirring anything, cutting bread and dough so that we make new shapes out of the old, and ripping herbs into smaller pieces.
As much as possible, we gear our cooking around our son’s appetite, so that our family can eat the same healthy things. Our most recent adventure was making a pizza together, but he has also helped us make scones, cookies, the ever-popular rice marshmallow treats, eggplant pasta sauce, curries, granola. There’s almost always a step or two in a recipe that can be adapted for him to try.
On the days when he’s not up for helping with whatever we’re cooking, but needs to be with us while we’re doing it, our son always loves to clean the kitchen sink. I prop him up on his stool, give him a scrub brush, and fill the sink with baking soda and some water, and let him go to work.
One favorite weekend breakfast treat that we make is the classic “Egg in the Hole.”
Egg in the Hole (for kids & adults)
Sliced bread (homemade, or from your local bakery, if possible)
Eggs (preferably from a farm near you)
Optional salsa: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil
1. Have your child use a shot glass or small cup to remove a smallish hole from the center of a slice of bread.
2. Butter both sides of the bread and the hole piece
3. Put a frying pan on medium hot, and add a scant 1TB of butter or margarine or olive oil.
4. Toast one side of the bread and one hole in the pan. About half-way through toasting the first side, crack one egg into the hole. (If your child wants to do this, crack the egg ahead of time, and have your child dump the egg into the hole with your assistance.)
5. Flip the bread/egg and hole piece to the other side when the first side seems done, and egg is partially set.
6. When the egg is firm-ish and toast on the second side is golden, serve.
7. (A nice accompaniment to egg in the hole is a simple tomato salsa, which you can do in a separate frying pan. Just smash 10 cherry tomatoes and 2 garlic cloves and cook over medium heat in 1 TB olive oil until bubbling. Serve with egg in the hole.)