With Your Food
By Pamela White
Get ready for some messy
fun. It's time to relinquish the kitchen controls and hand
them over to...your preschoolers.
Pretty scary, isn't it?
Why should any sane parent cook with preschoolers?
There are loads of great
- Boosts self-esteem: Children take the
lead; grown-ups are helpers. What a kick for your wee ones
to be the bosses.
- Develops small motor skills: Holding
(dull) knives, stirring, measuring -- all of these improve
- Encourages self-control: In order to
make a dish, no matter how simple, your child will need to
follow the steps to the finished product.
- Teaches math skills: One-half cup of
milk plus one-half cup of water equals how much liquid? Use
cooking time to discuss fractions and practice counting (Four
pieces of cantaloupe, two slices of apples and seven grapes
equal fruit salad!).
- Nurtures creativity: What would be
good in a fruit salad? Let's decorate the pizza with a face
or flowers made from cut-up vegetables.
- Promotes good eating habits: As a bonus,
your children will even try new and healthy foods they've
prepared "all by themselves."
Now you know why to cook
with preschoolers; let's look at how to do it.
Whether you want to cook
one on one, or as part of a playgroup or nursery school program,
there are several ways to make the process fun.
Most important, learn
to love a mess. Milk will be spilled, sauces will slop over.
Let your child enjoy his moment to shine and ignore the messes,
unless you and he can wipe up with a smile on your faces and
not lose momentum. Don't rush; your child will move at his
own pace. Yes, you could do it more quickly yourself, but that's
not what cooking with preschoolers is about.
Make it easy on everyone.
Use a low table. It's not terribly safe to have small children
stand on chairs to do their preparation; it's certainly dangerous
to have them standing on a chair while cooking on the stove.
Child-size tables and chairs and picnic tables are excellent
for children to cook at. In school situations, just use the
child-size tables the children do art projects on.
Avoid stove use by using
an electric griddle that can be set up on the table, allowing
your child to make pancakes or grilled sandwiches. Explain
that adults need to handle hot pans from the oven and supervise
when the griddle is being used. Food processors and blenders
are also to be used only with close supervision. Teach children
they are never to push the "on" buttons unless you are right
there and small fingers must stay away from the sharp blades.
Do as much food preparation
as is practical ahead of time by gathering flour, salt, sugar
and doing any cutting or blanching. Make sure you have all
the ingredients, measuring tools, and pots and pans needed.
Preschoolers can cut fruit, bread, herbs and cheese with dinner
knives, giving them more control over the food preparation.
Small spoons can scoop out yogurt into measuring cups, making
measuring more accessible. Vegetable peelers can peel potatoes
for mashing and carrots for round golden sauteed slices.
After the hard work is
done, accept being stuck with the clean-up. The children's
focus will be on cooking and eating. Clean-up will hold less
interest. Put on a happy face as you load up the sink; think
of how your child tried zucchini for the first time or invented
a muffin recipe.
Other tips: Use smocks
or old shirts to save clothes; choose recipes that require
action (mashing, mixing, pouring and measuring). Use pie pans
underneath measuring cups so overflows can be quickly returned
to their cartons. Remind children how important hygiene is
when cooking; washing hands should be step one to cooking with
preschoolers. Watch for spills on the floor; you don't want
anyone to slip and fall.
When choosing recipes,
look for those that involve kneading, breaking eggs, rolling
Mashed potatoes are a
fun and easy recipe. One caveat: Have them peel potatoes over
a bowl or over a clean floor. Once, when making Thanksgiving
dinner with kindergarteners, there were only one or two of
the slippery potatoes that didn't have to be retrieved from
the floor and under the bookcases. The children still relished
the treat they'd made (potatoes were washed again before cooking).
Buy an electric juicer
or use a hand juicer to make orange juice or lemon juice for
Hot air popcorn poppers
are worth their cost in entertainment value. Most have never
seen popcorn as a seed, much less observed its transformation
Toast bread and have your
preschooler spread the butter, watching it melt. Sprinkle on
a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Give you child instant
pudding, milk and an egg beater. Add a bowl of strawberries
and whipped cream. Layer ingredients to create parfaits for
a cool, no-cook treat.
Any child can make homemade
butter with a cold jar and heavy cream. This is an especially
fun task for groups of preschoolers as they take turns shaking
the jar until the butter forms. A by-product of making butter
this way is cool, tasty buttermilk for drinking.
Fruit or vegetable kabobs
are fun to make: Cut fruit or vegetables into small bites and
place on skewers. Ham and cheese cubes are another option to
add onto the vegetable skewers.
What says "childhood" more
than peanut butter? Peanut butter, mixed with confectioners
sugar to cut down the stickiness, is as fun to handle as play
dough. Have your child roll it between his palms into a golf
ball-sized treat. Finish it by rolling the ball in chopped
nuts, cocoa powder or coconut shreds.
Toast English muffins
as substitute pizza crusts. Let your child spoon on tomato
sauce, then sprinkle grated cheese on top. Use previously cut-up
olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and sliced bell peppers to make
faces on top of the cheese. No cooking necessary.
Ready to get started?
Wipe off the children's table, stock up on fruit, cheese and
crackers, plug in the griddle and invite the preschoolers into
your, I mean their, kitchen. Bon appetit!