On the evenings where I am home solo and cooking, I sadly can't spend much time playing with the kids. As such, if they are having trouble self-entertaining and need mommy time, then I usually try to engage them in some form of the cooking I am doing. Sometimes it means I have one child at my elbow and another in the ergo as I cook. Sometimes it means they are helping me wash veggies, make burritos, or stir something. Sometimes it simply means I plop them on the kitchen floor with two mixing spoons, a large mixing bowl full of cheerios and other "ingredients", and let them "cook" away. The relative peace and calm is worth the inevitable mess. Did I mention mommy has wine?
Because, when everyone is in the mood, cooking together can be really enjoyable, it is an activity that we actually do out of choice on weekend mornings and long or rainy afternoons. Making pancakes, salad, pizza, muffins, and other baked goods are our favorites as there are lots of age-appropriate tasks and the time to completion and threshold for success are quite low.
Since, as mentioned above, cooking is actually not really my thing, to add insight on this subject of cooking with kids, I turned to Bridget Sandorford, who is a freelance food and culinary writer. She, among other things, enjoys biking and painting and is working on her first cookbook. Here is what she had to say about how to make cooking with kids easier:
Anyone who's ever tried to cook dinner with kids in the kitchen knows how difficult it can be. You spend more time trying to keep them out of harm's way or from making a mess than you do actually preparing and cooking your dinner. Kids are full of energy and curiosity, so nothing with them will ever be simple. However, you can work with that energy to develop strategies that can make cooking with kids in the kitchen a little easier. Here are a few tips:
Make Them Feel Empowered
When kids feel empowered, they take ownership over their task and they are more immersed in the job at hand and much more "helpful" to you -- even if it means staying out of your way when you are rushing about trying to get everything ready. Assign age-appropriate tasks to your children and explain how much they are helping you in preparing the family dinner. Younger children can do simple things like retrieve produce from the fridge, or hand it to you from the counter. Older children can wash produce or help you set the table.
The key is to make them understand how important their job is to the whole process (even if it isn't) so that they take their "responsibility" very seriously and focus on the task at hand.
Make It Fun
Telling kids how important their job is will get them hooked, but their natural curiosity and short attention span will make it hard to keep them committed for long. You also need to make what you're doing fun. You can make up songs to sing while you're working, you can play fun games like "I Spy" or 20 questions as you work, or you can put on a favorite show to watch. Make sure that whatever you're doing, it's fun and it promotes a sense of togetherness in your task.
Use a Learning Tower
Very young children will make it difficult to do much in the kitchen. They want to be right where you are, which may be dangerous if you are carrying large pots or trying to put things in and out of the oven. You can allow children to be in on the action but still safe by using a learning tower. This is a great piece for toddlers, as it allows them to be at counter level, but it provides a natural barrier so that they don't get into things that are dangerous. It's also safe and will keep them from falling, unlike a regular stool.
Time It Right
Cooking is like a dance --even more so when you throw kids in the mix. You have to learn to time your preparation just right so that everything comes together at the same time, instead of cooking one thing while another goes cold. You have get the timing right with your children, as well. If you know you're going to be doing something dangerous -- like frying things in hot oil or moving a large soup pan with boiling water -- make sure that you have given them some task where they are out of harm's way.
Minimize the Potential for Meltdowns
You know that if you have to use chocolate chips or sugar in a recipe, your kids are probably going to want to sample the goods. Yet you don't want them to eat these things before dinner. You say no, and a meltdown ensues. Anticipate these instances that will trigger conflicts or meltdowns and find ways to avoid them. This may mean waiting until they are setting the table until you get out the chocolate, or it may mean offering a compromise, such as one taste and then no more until after dinner.
Cooking with kids can certainly be challenging, but it doesn't have to be impossible. Use these simple strategies to help you make it a more easy process so that you can get dinner on the table in a minimal amount of time and with a minimal amount of fuss.
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