Thursday, November 12, 2015

Toddlers in the Kitchen Part 1

In honor of the release of my last cookbook, Idiot's Guide to Homemade Baby and Toddler Food,  I wanted to do a series on cooking with kiddos: Toddlers in the Kitchen.

I am not going to say I am an expert on cooking with kids, but I wrote my cookbook with my daughter, Baby G, at my side. G was my pint-sized sous chef. Every recipe in that book was made with her. And through that experience, I learned a lot of lessons, usually at the detriment to my sanity and the cleanliness of my kitchen.

To write one big post with two kids running around is a little intimidating to me (and why it's taken me so long to get anything written about the subject), I thought I would share a little each week. And okay G2 is not running around, but she sure demands more attention than I remember of Baby G. I guess that's why people have more than one kid, huh?

Here goes:

Safety first. At all times, keeping your kiddo safe is number 1 priority. G is cautious at heart, so I realize that I am lucky. She also fears pain, so if I tell her that something will hurt, she avoids it. Sometimes that has to be repeated, and now that she talks, I make her repeat it, i.e. "I will not touch that again". Before she was this verbal, it was about keeping her out of harm's way at all times. I love my learning tower  and do feel it is worth the money. It contains kiddos nicely.
When chopping, I go out of my way to make sure her fingers can't get to the knives and at the oven, I am on red alert keeping her away from burners and making it clear that she can't go near them. You have to stay three steps of your kiddo at all times. Yes, it makes cooking more work, but all the benefits outweigh the cost.

Keep it simple. Because of all I said above, keep it to one simple recipe per activity, and even better if you've made the recipes before. Your focus is on the kiddo, not 'will this turn out?' Because here's the deal, if you are cooking with a kiddo and it's a new complicated recipe, it won't turn out. Trust me. I was developing recipes with my kiddo. A lot didn't turn out. On the flip side, everything in the cookbook did turn out. They were simple enough to work.

Allow for at least double the time. Cooking with kiddos is an activity and treat it like that. Let them smell the ingredients. Talk about the ingredients...which leads to....

Be a Food Network Star. Narrate everything going on and make it fun. If the kiddo gets bored, your kitchen and whatever you are making will be trashed.

Be prepared. Before you bring your kiddo into the kitchen, get all the ingredients and tools on the counter, because you don't want to be half way through the recipe and realize you are missing something. The only exception to this is chocolate chips. Always keep them hidden until you use them. Particularly if you are also raising a chocolate fiend like Baby G.

Cook like a pro, clean as you go. We chant this (with clapping) every time we cook. As soon as you finish with an ingredient, put it away. Your kitchen will still be messy when you are done, but not nearly as messy.

Set your kiddo up for success.  Break down jobs into small achievable tasks so she can actually do it. For example, today G helped me make 'Kayla' salad (kale salad in G speak). I thought she'd be able to tear off the kale leaves and put them in the food processor. She couldn't quite tear them, so instead I tore them off and had her throw the leaves into the bowl of food processor. It wasn't efficient, but she could do it.
Other good jobs for little hands: dumping in ingredients, stirring with assistance.

Use a really big freaking bowl. This is especially true if you are letting them stir. Trust me and my messy kitchen on this.

That's all my tips for now. I hope to also include some kiddo friendly recipes and more tips as I think of them.

What recipes do you like to make with your kiddo?