I frequently check out cookbooks from our local library and often times they are cookbooks that feature kids in the kitchen. Cooking with kids-type cookbooks always make me chuckle, since the photos in the cookbook never reflect the reality of cooking with real children. The pictures in these books often feature smiling, perfectly dressed children, with nary a speck of flour, spill or other stain. Also in these books are moms who seemingly relaxed, also smiling, sporting a perfectly clean apron.
It’s time for a reality check.
First though, I do have a little sympathy for the photographers of these cookbooks. Surely no one wants to see a realistic interpretation of what it is like to cook with children, so they merely do their best to represent the process in a neat and orderly manner. I chuckle at the thought of someone taking pictures of me and the boys cooking in our kitchen. Folks would be so turned off from the thought of cooking in tandem that surely no one would attempt such a feat.
In a way, I fell victim to these warm and fuzzy photos as a mother. When R was a young toddler, I had these idyllic images of us cooking together. Instead, I realized a few things that I share with you (and a friend who requested I share them with her):
1. Plan ahead. If you wish to cook with young children, plan your item and read the recipe through so you have a thorough idea of what the recipe will entail, or better yet, choose a recipe with which you are very familiar, to lessen the need to read a recipe over and over again (the more you are reading a recipe, the less you have your eyes on your child=a bad idea).
2. Keep it simple. Beef Wellington is not a good recipe for cooking with small children.
3. Choose an age-appropriate recipe. Stir-fries, with lots of sharp knife cutting and hot wok cooking, aren’t a good idea with little ones.
4. Plan ahead. Yes, I know that was #1 too, but once you plan the recipe, plan ahead the ingredients too. Do any chopping and dicing before you have your little one join you in the kitchen. Use the idea of “mise en place,” literally, “everything in its place” so that you can have your child pour pre-measured amounts of items into a bowl, rather than scrambling to get the measuring cups in place, only to have junior knock the bowl over while you are distracted.
Once you’ve taken the above steps, figure out what your child would be able to handle. For wee ones, sometimes the best place to have them “help” is sitting in the highchair. They can observe, taste, smell and touch while you cook on the counter.
Give them a small pinch of flour, or a piece of any food that would be age-appropriate and safe on which to nibble.
For preschoolers, remember that while they are very eager, they may lack the dexterity and fine motor skills to stir or pour without making a big mess. Be sure to “spot” them while they cook.
As your kids grow, there will be more and more ways they can help you in the kitchen. Clemson University has a wonderful list of ways to help encourage cooking and helping in the kitchen…with a great list of age-appropriate tasks. Click here for the Clemson “Kids in the Kitchen” site.
So grab your messy apron and cooking gear and now get cookin’-