Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cooking and Baking with Little People

Oh dear, where have I been again this week?  I've just had yet another of those chasing my tail without actually getting anything done, children-sticking-to-me-like-velcro type of weeks.

As I love involving my children in cooking with me, I thought I'd share how we do it, for those a little nervous of plunging in with the aprons and wooden spoons.

Setting up
I open out the table in the kitchen and put the high-chairs and a chair for me around it so that we can sit down.
I also have a small step-ladder in the main part of the kitchen so that C can stand up at the kitchen counters and help wash the dishes etc.
I aim to get as much equipment and as many ingredients as possible out before C comes to join in, that way I can concentrate on him and Sis without having to dart into the pantry to find something - or worse still get halfway through a recipe and find I don't have something vital.

What to do with the smallest one.

Mine is just coming up to 9 months, and if yours is anything like mine at this age, she doesn't want to be left out of anything!

I put her in her high-chair, and leave within reach only what I don't mind her eating or throwing on the floor.  She gets to play, investigate etc. and can also see what we are up to.  On this cooking occasion we were making chicken stew, rock buns and soda bread.  She got to eat a bit of chicken and raw carrot, investigate the leek trimmings and some ice from the freezer, explore a sieve, some measuring spoons and a jug, and join in licking the spoon from the rock buns.  She also got a bit of packaging.

Before we start
We wash or wipe our hands and put our aprons on.  Then we look at the recipe, check through the ingredients and equipment list (I call it out and he checks to see if we have it on the table).  I usually put a little plate or bowl out next to him into which we add a few bits of interesting ingredients for him to taste - that way we aim to stop him tasting the mixture or stealing all the chocolate drops or whatever before it goes in the oven.

Two options
You choose from these two options depending on the age, experience and temperament of your child, and also on the recipe.  The two options are:
- The "I Can Cook" method (named for the CBeebies programme on which it is based.  In this one you split your ingredients in half and double up on equipment.  You make half with your equipment and your child copies you and makes the other half with his equipment.  The advantages are that it's entirely their own work and they really get stuck in with all the processes.  They get the pride in their finished article.  The disadvantages are that if they do a major step wrong it's ruined, and while they may learn from it, they would inevitably be disappointed.  Not all recipes work this way, it's tricky to divide an egg in half for example, or you might not have two small loaf tins (for which the cooking time would probably also be different than a large loaf tin).
- The second option is probably more common, particularly with younger or more excitable or easily distracted children.  It's the partnership approach.  This is where you work together.  You give your child as much involvement as possible, but step in where needed to "help".

Top Tips

  • Only ever bake or cook with your children if you have plenty of time and you are feeling chilled out and relaxed.  A frazzled temper will only ever escalate when cooking is involved.
  • Don't worry about mess.  In the grand scheme of things how important is it?  They will learn so so much from cooking, and it's always inevitable to do some clearing up after a messy activity - they should learn to help you clear up - part of the learning experience.
  • Be aware of safety at all times.  Don't stop your child from handling knives or glass bowls or stirring hot food - but introduce these aspects at an appropriate stage for your child and ensure that you teach them safety first, and are always there to supervise.

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