Remember that episode of The Cosby Show where Rudy and Peter make a ridiculous mess when they use Cliff’s new juicer even though they were SPECIFICALLY told not to? Read this article and having your kids in the kitchen won’t be like that.
If you read my Summertime Snacks column, you know I like to prepare good snacks for my girls, throw them in to a basket or drawer, and let them help themselves.
The controller in me likes it this way. I like to prepare the stuff in total solitude (well, perhaps Ellen or John Stewart can join me for noise on my little kitchen TV), throw it in, and be done with it. This way, I get to go at my pace, usually juggle lots of things at one time, and feel a great since of accomplishment when it’s all said and done.
Letting others in to my kitchen is another matter. Letting CHILDREN in to my kitchen is a whole other world of matters. You know what I mean – it just doesn’t GO that well. I like it when things GO. Now, I’m by no means a “clean cook” – I can make a pretty good mess when I’m a-cookin’ – but it’s MY mess, and it’s a controlled mess. I like having my agenda in my head and sticking to it, checking off my mental boxes as I go. If my kids are in the picture, that’s all a wash.
But here’s the thing: I love food.
I really love preparing food for others to eat. This includes, and is especially true for, my children. Not only do I want them to love the food I make for them, but I’ve got this deep desire for them to appreciate food the way I do. I’d even go so far to say that I hope one of them wants to become a chef (which is something I’d love, love, love to be myself… ah, the next life, perhaps).
So, what to do? I say start them young. As long as they’re interested (and let’s face it, kids are usually pretty interested in what we’re doing in the kitchen) I try to find ways to let them be involved.
My three and five year old are not really too thrilled about helping with dinner, even though they do sometimes. What they really get in to is making something for themselves or to share with a friend. We’re talking snacks and lunch… instant gratification stuff.
Not sure where to start? Here are three simple kids-in-the-kitchen facts and rules for you. Stick to these and the whole ordeal will go a lot smoother.
- Kids have short attention spans. Search for something simple and quick. I’ll give a few ideas shortly.
- Kids usually get hungry when they’re in the kitchen. Have snacks for them to eat while they’re working. This seems ridiculous, I know, but just having a bowl of grapes or something to munch on so they won’t deplete all of your ingredients is a good idea.
- Kids like food when it looks good. Make it interesting. Even pretty. Pretty food is good food.
Want some ideas of what I’m talking about? Here are some of our tried-and-trues…
Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
Melt the chocolate (you can even get the Baker’s brand that you just stick in the microwave now). Put it in a wide mouthed bowl, and leave the dipping to the babes. They can roll it around – I’d recommend showing them how to just do about ¼ to ½ of the rod. Have wax paper out, ready to hold the wet ones, while you go through the process with more pretzels. If you want to get very fancy, have an assortment of sprinkles at the ready for them to apply (while still wet)!
Who doesn’t like food better when it’s on a stick? Younger children can pop grapes off of the vine while you slice and dice apples, pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, and other favorites. I try to plan for a good variety of colors – and we usually have good color-talk while we work. Have all of the fruit washed and at the ready, and kids can go at sticking them on to the sticks, determining the order themselves (though, I’d usually recommend a grape go on first for some stability). Younger children, who can’t handle the pointy kabob, can sit on the counter and hand you the pieces of fruit. These store really well in the fridge, and look very pretty as a centerpiece for your next cookout!
Hummus and Pitas
Slice up some pita pockets, and spread them out on a baking sheet (preheat your oven to 350). Give your child a paint brush (yes, that’s what I said) and a bowl of olive oil, and let them paint the pita. Sprinkle some salt, and pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until crusty. While baking, you can make the hummus by pureeing a can of Cantellini beans with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to taste. My girls love to push the buttons on the food processor and watch it whirl!
I get my girls involved in this at the grocery store. For the first time, I’d show them a traditional bag of trail mix, and let them see all of the different yummy things all in one. Then, we go exploring for our own “ingredients.” Our favorite additions are M&M’s (of course!), Chex cereal, nuts (this is fun to try different ones – pumpkin seeds are our go-to lately), raisins, Craisins, pretzels, and chocolate chips. Children love to mix and stir, so I put out a huge bowl, give them five or so choices from the store, and let them stir it all up. Then, they’ll help me portion it out in to small portions for our pantry grab-basket.
My five year old can make her own PB&J. It’s not pretty, but she likes the idea of doing it all by herself. If your kids can do this part, let them. If they care what it looks like, pull out your cookie cutters and let them make shapes from their sandwiches. It’s always more fun to eat a sandwich that looks like a gingerbread man – and go ahead, put two raisins for eyes on it, just for kicks.
Kids can dish it up too. Let them into the kitchen.