Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cooking up some fun

In light of my recent post on cooking with toddlers, I thought I'd share a fun meal we made for supper tonight -- funny face pizzas! 

They are made on bagel halves and faces designed from olives, mushrooms and peppers.  We hosted a couple neighbors to munch on these yummy treats with us!  Susie loved making them!  I've found homemade pizza is a REALLY good thing to have toddlers help with -- spreading sauce, sprinkling cheese and arranging toppings is difficult to mess up, and if it falls off, it's just on the tray.  The hardest part was convincing Susie not to eat all the olive eyes as they went on! :)

Cooking with her Strawberry Shortcake cookbook

Happy with the results!
Ready for the oven.  These faces look like something from a Roald Dahl book!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cooking with your toddler

If you are anything like me, the hour before dinner is the witching hour.  I am trying to get supper on the table, keep the teething baby happy and occupy my toddler so she doesn't trash the house right before my husband walks through the door.  I also have the goal of tidying up the house (at least somewhat) before we all sit down to dinner, so that adds one more thing to the "to-do" list, and everyone tends to be somewhat grouchy because they are hungry and tired.

So why would I want to add something else to the mix?  Why would I cook with my toddler when it certainly would get done faster if I do it myself?  Well, at the very least, it does keep her occupied, but far greater are the benefits than just that!  She is learning valuable work at an age when everything is like a fun game.  She is experiencing healthy food and making her more likely to eat it since she helped in its preparation.  Best of all, she and I are bonding during our time together -- mother and daughter -- which is precious!

Here are some of my tips for making cooking with your toddler more manageable so that you can enjoy this time of teaching and learning together.  WHAT you cook is up to you!

1.  Throw away your concerns of things being perfect.  Guess what?  Your kiddo is probably going to spill.  Oh well!!  Shreds of cheese may fall to the ground.  Oh well!  When Susie stirs, I can pretty much guarantee that she will slosh a bit.  After getting wet a few times, she's realized that she needs to use a bit of a lighter touch!  Decide ahead of time to instruct in a sweet and patient voice and be ready to laugh if things get a bit messy.  You don't want to teach your child that cooking is about perfection and they cannot please your demands by gasping every time they reach for the spoon.

2. The slow cooker is your friend!  I finally joined the rest of the majority of American home cooks and got a crock pot for Christmas.  It's really great for toddler cooking because it's not hot (until you turn it on) and usually things are getting dumped into it cold, in random order and there is lots of stirring involved (my daughter's favorite part of "making").  You can make something earlier in the day, let your child stir till their hearts' content while you wash the dishes, and then you are FREE as a bird during the witching hour except maybe heating up some bread!  I am determined to use the crock pot as much as possible during this stage because I can chop and she can do the rest!

3. Food prep -- last night I made egg tacos, and did not have much for Susie to help with.  So I gave her bowls and had her fill them with the toppings -- cheese, lettuce (it was a package of pre-washed greens), avocado, etc.  Now, normally, I do not ALWAYS put things out in bowls because that is a step I tend to skip so save on dishes, but it gave her a job, and she REALLY LIKED IT!  Plus we were having company, so might as well make it nice.  

4. Give yourself time -- I've found that it will probably take a little longer to cook when I am instructing and overseeing Susie's help.  So I just plan on starting earlier.  Many things can stay warm in the oven while you wait for dinner time.  You can also split up your cooking time, if you need to keep an eye on the stove like this -- I tell Susie that I'm going to need her help making supper when the timer rings.  She can play or read books or whatever until it rings, but then I'll bring in her climbing thing and have her help me.  This works great, because it keeps her from pulling my legs and saying "I want to help you cook" while I'm frying tortillas or something because she knows she can help me a little later.  Then I get done the stuff only I can do, and I'm free-er to oversee her work.

5. Bring in the whole family -- so in my case, this would mean the baby.  Now sometimes when we cook in the crockpot, it's during his morning nap, so this would not apply (that's actually a FANTASTIC time to cook!).  But if we are fixing supper in the late afternoon, I drag his seat into my crowded kitchen and give him measuring cups, a wisk, or a wire pastry cutter to clank around and gnaw on.  He can't quite snack yet, but I do pop Cheerios in one at a time if he's really fussy.  I have worn him in a sling while I cook, but now he's pretty grabby, so I'll need to figure out a way to hold him in the back so he can just watch.  That may or may not work!  If you have other kids, then you can give them jobs while still letting the littler one help.  I had my niece who is five do all the dumping and let Susie do the stirring (it's nice to have an accurate dumper -- haha!).  Sing together, talk about the food, chat about how fun it is to make supper for daddy, or whoever will be eating at your table.  Susie often pretends she is cooking for family members who live far away. 

Susie in her mommy helper aka "climbing fing"
6.  Safety and cleanliness -- these are probably two big objections to letting really small kids help with food, but it's actually a great chance to educate them on these things.  So when I let Susie whisk eggs, I emphasized that eggies could make us sick if we got them on us and that she needed to make the whisk touch the bottom of the bowl (I also gave her my largest bowl so she would be less likely to slosh).  I don't let her eat cookie dough, but I do let her taste just about anything safe.  She has a great "mommy helper" that her grandpa built her for Christmas that I bring into the kitchen while we cook.  It is much better than standing on a chair, and this means I do not have to bring all the food to the table (which is lower, allowing her to kneel) in order for her to see it.  When she is up in that, it also means she is not underfoot, so I can open and close the oven without doing the "blind spot check" like I'm changing lanes in traffic. :)

Stirring the lentils
I hope this is helpful to someone!  Imagine all the colors, flavors, textures, fine motor skills, language, and social skills your little one can learn in the kitchen!  Please post your ideas here if you have any!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keeping Memories

I have made baby books for each of my children, and of course have framed pictures of them everywhere, but I wanted to post an idea I had for keeping a few of their special baby things for them to have when they become parents.

In each box I have saved a few things from the hospital and a few really special baby outfits.  They are things that I would let a sibling wear (if they have another brother or sister) but probably would not lend out to others.  They are set aside for Susie and Chip to keep.  I will probably add a couple more things as time goes on (like shoes or a favorite book), but for now I've got this at least.  

The picture I have is not awesome because I can't find my camera charger and had to take this with my phone.  I labeled the boxes with baby cards I'd saved (I'm a borderline packrat when it comes to sentimental items).  I'm so happy with my precious boxes!