I started this blog almost a year ago (gasp!).
The goals of my posts were to:
- Feature healthy foods that my kids eat and love
- Show and discuss how children can be involved in cooking
I think I’ve been pretty successful with the first goal, but the second goal…well…
At the time I started this blog, my children were 4 1/2 and 1 1/2. My kids have always been in the kitchen with me. Since birth, I have either worn them (in a safe manner) while preparing food, or had them sit in their infant seat or bouncer on the kitchen floor while I talked about what I was doing. As they grew, they were always welcome in the kitchen. When they were old enough (I think this varies by child based on personality), I would let them do things such as stir dry or wet ingredients when baking, mix ingredients in a bowl, and of course watch as much or as little as they wanted to.
They have seen me happily explaining every little thing I’m doing. I’ve given them ingredient samples and encouraged them to smell everything from citrus to spices.
They’ve also seen me running around like a madwoman making sure something doesn’t burn, juggling the many dishes in a meal, all while my toddler is screaming that something was taken from him or that he wants to do everything I’m doing.
What I’ve realized in this journey, is that they see the latter more than the former.
Yeah. I can be a little nutso in the kitchen.
Why? Because cooking with kids is hard – darn hard.
It’s the sauce simmering or boiling? Are the veggies roasting turning black? Another dirty diaper to change right now!? Oh, no, the pasta is overcooked and mushy!
As I mentioned, from the birth of my kids I cooked dinner from scratch (with no “help”). Cooking for my family is something I must do. I remember one day when my son was not yet one year old, a family member was here while I was cooking dinner. My son was at my leg while I was about to open the oven. The family member was a little nervous and asked my son to leave the kitchen. My response to the situation was that we all learned to safely cook while the kids were in the kitchen because, if not, there would never be any dinner!
Delicious food is one of the ways I tell my family that I love them. I won’t give this up easily to someone else. The structure of our day requires that I make dinner and have it ready when my husband comes home from work. Before all the feminists’ mouths drop open, I do choose to live my life this way. And, by having dinner ready as soon as my husband comes home, it gives me time after dinner to be alone (which I need!) while Dad and the kids play before bath and bedtime. So, for us, everyone benefits – even if I’ve given myself a few more gray hairs in the process!
So, here we are almost a year later. My kids are 6 and almost 3. And, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. It’s still really important to cook for your family and with your kids. I guess this goes without saying, but even though it’s hard, it’s worth it.
2. It’s not always realistic to have your kids cooking next to you, if you’ve got a dinner time deadline. Some days cooking dinner is at a very relaxed pace. Sometimes it’s hectic. We’ve all got busy lives and living life (playdates, outdoor time, activities, work, etc.) is important. When I’m rushed to get dinner on the table, I prefer to take the reigns and cook myself.
3. On days when I just need some space to get things done in the kitchen, I do not feel bad anymore finding something to occupy the kids. They can work with play dough at the table, do puzzles, listen to audio books or even watch something on Netflix!
4. It’s OK for kids to watch from a distance. We have two barstools. I think there is value in them watching me coordinate cooking multiple dishes, which is a lost art (not that I have it mastered!).
5. When the time is right, they can work with me hands-on in the kitchen. At any time, they can taste test what I’m making, but I also like to make sure we do special things around holidays or special occasions that they are involved in. For Valentine’s Day we made heart cookies (really delicious, by the way) and my son helped by cutting the cookies out with the cookie cutter. In the coming weeks, we will bake Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day.
6. Encourage cooking with other family members. My husband loves to cook, is very creative and good at it. But, since he’s got a busy schedule during the week, he usually just cooks on the weekend. When he does, it’s something really neat like homemade pizza dough or soft pretzels, seitan, or most recently sushi. Usually his cooking is more of a relaxed project, so the kids work with him at various times throughout the process.
7. Simplify, simplify, simplify. The easier a recipe, the less stressful dinner time will be. I rely on a lot of one-pot meals, baked “casseroles”, and stir fries. I have tried to get comfortable with a handful of recipes, so I can prepare them without too much thought.
One thing I wish I had bought when my daughter was little was a Learning Tower, which is a safe, contained way to have your kids watch closely or work alongside the cook in the kitchen. That may have helped make things a little easier!
These are just my thoughts. I’ve learned a lot in the past six years, especially that I have a lot of skill-building to do as a parent such as more patience, taking deep breaths, and realizing that it’s OK for dinner to be a little late!
What has been your experience cooking while parenting young children? What tips can you share to help me and all our readers?