Growing up, my family shared home-cooked meals almost every night. It was important to my parents and is something I want to provide for my family as well. I have come to realize that I didn’t fully appreciate this labor of love until I became a mother myself.
Spending time in the kitchen is often a way for me to relax and take a mental break from watching the kids. However, I have found that I love having my son’s company in the kitchen as well. It is fun to involve him in the meal preparation and let him help. I’m proud to say that at almost three years old, my son is well on his way to becoming an awesome sous chef.
I have learned a few things as we have prepared food together that help keep him engaged and allow me to still be productive.
Like most toddlers, my son loves to scoop and pour things, which is a great way to build motor skills. Of course, this can also make a colossal mess in the kitchen. I use smaller sized scoops to make them easier to fill/pour and create less mess. For example, for a cup of flour, use two ½ cup scoops. This also allows us to work on counting as we pour the scoops into the bowl. For smaller amounts (say teaspoon size measurements), I ask him to hold the scoop while I pour the seasoning. Then he can pour it into the larger bowl with the other ingredients.
As we cook, I have been teaching my son the names of common ingredients and tools, while showing him where they are located in the kitchen. For example, he can help get cans of beans out of the pantry and find the can opener and spatulas. I placed child-safe items on low shelves and in low drawers so they are easily accessible. Kitchen tools can be a form of entertainment all on their own too. My son loves playing with the salad spinner and stacking containers of seasonings on the counter.
Sometimes I need a few minutes to do some chopping or handle a messier task. This is where the sous chef skills come into play. Need an onion or some garlic? Turns out little hands are great at peeling these. Making banana bread? Mashing bananas with a fork is super fun. Mixing a bowl of ingredients also can provide entertainment for a while. We had our share of messes and spilled ingredients the first few times, but he’s gotten the hang of it now.
Take Time & Manage Expectations
Having kids in the kitchen no doubt makes tasks messier and often takes longer; so manage your expectations of how things will go. Take the time to explain things to them and teach them about what you are doing. Invite them to smell and taste spices while talking about them. Let them do something they are interested in even if you could do it ten times faster. I am a huge believer that children are much more capable than we give them credit for. They’re quick learners too. As you become more comfortable in the kitchen together, you will find the ways you work best together.
With that, I will leave you with a few of our favorite recipes.
The No-Bake Option: Peanut Butter-Banana Balls
We eat these straight from the freezer and love them as a quick snack!
- 1¾ cups old-fashioned oats
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ripe banana, mashed
In a large bowl, combine the oats, chocolate chips, and chia seeds. Set aside.
In a small microwaveable bowl, add the peanut butter and honey. Microwave for about 15-20 seconds until the peanut butter melts slightly. Remove and stir in vanilla and mashed banana until smooth.
Pour peanut butter mixture over dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Place bowl in refrigerator and chill so that mixture holds together and is easier to roll into balls. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Let’s Bake: Morning Glory Muffins
This recipe provides plenty of opportunity for scooping, measuring, and mixing. They are super yummy and freeze really well.
- 1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup ground flaxseed
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 large carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 cup)
- 1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, and grated
- ½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
- ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
- 3 eggs
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- ½ cup canola oil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease muffin cups or fill with paper muffin liners.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, ground flaxseed, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Add the carrots, apple, coconut, pecans, and cranberries and stir until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, bananas, oil, molasses, and vanilla. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
Bake the muffins for about 22-24 minutes, until golden brown but still slightly undercooked in the center (they will finish cooking while cooling). Rest the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely on wire rack.
I Prefer Cooking: Minestrone Soup
This is one of our favorites. Packed with veggies and easy to make!
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 9 medium tomatoes
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 tbsp. dried basil
- ½ tbsp. pepper
- 2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans vegetable broth
- 1 can navy beans (undrained)
- 1 can kidney beans (undrained)
- 1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
- 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sauté first 4 ingredients in oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp-tender. Add tomatoes and next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in vegetable broth and next 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, simmer 15 minutes or until macaroni is tender. Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese, if desired.