I've been wanting to write a post about baking and cooking with children for awhile. I really think it is one of my children's favorite activities that we do together. Our baking/cooking day is Thursday. It is my 3 year old's favorite day. She asks, almost everyday, "Is it baking day?" Of course we bake and cook other days in addition to Thursdays, but on Thursdays my children know that we will bake and cook for our afternoon activity.
Involving children in snacks and meals- baking and cooking- benefits them in so many ways. Here is a short list of reasons I came up with to bake and cook with children:
*Studies show that children who help in food preparation are more apt to eat the food after they've helped prepare it. Children benefit from knowing where their food/meals come from.
*Cooking and baking exposes children to taste, textures, and smells, helping to develop the senses.
*The use of kitchen tools like measuring cups and spoons provides a first introduction to math skills they will develop in the years to come.
*Stirring, pouring, measuring, scooping, and cutting all develop important muscles in the hand and arms in addition to the development of coordination, and fine and gross motor skills.
*Children can increase self esteem and independence when they participate in this "grown up" activity.
*Any age can participate from the youngest sitting in a high chair playing with measuring cups and tasting ingredients to the oldest reading and following a recipe.
Preparing Squash Soup For Dinner
Preparing Myself: Successful baking and cooking with children all begins, for me, with the right frame of mind. I chose our baking day to be Thursdays because it is the day before cleaning day. At this point in the week the house is waiting to be cleaned. I find that I am more relaxed if things are spilled, dropped and messes made if I didn't just spend a few hours cleaning the house. When I cook with my children I want to enjoy the experience and not worry about the mess that may incur along the way. In this small way I am able to set myself up for a better experience. There are many times, other than baking day, when my daughters will want to help in the kitchen and there are certainly times at the end of a long day when I feel hurried and really don't want "extra help." At this point I try to find a small part of the food preparation they can do that doesn't involving measuring or pouring. Something simple like washing and scrubbing vegetables, cutting or breaking food, or greasing a needed bowl allows them to help and me to continue on with the meal.
Preparing My Children: Sometimes, in our house, ingredients have been known to disappear while we are in the process of mixing them. For example when we bake cookies, the chocolate chips seem to disappear quickly. If there are plenty of chocolate chips it's fine, but when we don't have enough to add in at the end it can be a problem. It is unrealistic for me to expect my young three year old to not taste ingredients. To help prevent too much tasting of the ingredients I will sometimes provide a small snack before we start, especially if it is coming up on snack time. If a snack isn't provided beforehand I prepare by handing out some of the extra ingredients (raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, etc.) for them to snack on while we bake.
In the Kitchen: We've found that a step stool at our kitchen island works great for cooking height. Sometimes we will use the children's table or the dining room table too. Aprons are a must for little ones, especially my youngest who wipes her hands on her clothes all the time. This photo also shows some of our clean up supplies stored under the island providing easy access for everyone when needed.
I try to have my children participate in as much of the baking/cooking process that they can. Instead of me measuring and pouring and giving it to them to dump in the bowl, I'll pour some of the needed ingredient into a small manageable pitcher so they can practice pouring, measuring and adding it the bowl. While they measure liquids and solids, they practice scooping, leveling, pouring to a line, and pouring to the top.
When it comes to cracking eggs, we crack them into a smaller bowl so that any shells that happen to fall in are easy to find. I am notorious for worrying about raw egg, so I encourage hand washing after egg cracking.
A big bowl for stirring and a small pitcher for pouring
For mixing ingredients I've found a big bowl works best. The ingredients stay in the bowl better and the bowl doesn't move around as much either.
Some of our favorite cooking and baking utensils include the Pampered Chef spreader (great for cutting, the serrated edge cuts but isn't very sharp) and the small scoop used mostly for batter. A small grater, the crinkle cutter, and a plastic knife (again, it cuts but isn't very sharp).
We also use the cutting board, child size oven mitts, and a child size rolling pin.
Scooping muffin batter
On our baking day we usually make muffins. I think it just evolved this way because they are relatively simple to make, everyone likes them and they are done and out of the oven shortly after we finish cleaning up. Other favorites that my daughters enjoying making on baking day include granola bars, apple crisp, applesauce, pudding, and bread. (In addition to the not as healthy treats we make too.) Our recent favorite for muffins are King Arthur's Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, since we always seem to have over ripened bananas and mashing them is so much fun.
I would love to know what tips you have and what do your children enjoy making in the kitchen?