The Dad’s (Second) Guide to Cooking with Young Kids

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

So, you’re looking for a slower, messier way to put a meal on the table? Involving your kids in the baking/cooking process will address that desire quite effectively. If you’ve read theInitial Guide to Cooking/Baking and incorporated its tips, you’re now ready for 201 level material.

My two-year-old son, Drew, is the latest to join me on the kitchen floor, and we recently collaborated on some pancakes (we’ve actually progressed beyond the simple mixes, and this “Old-Fashioned Pancakes” recipe is the current favorite). Drew is the stereotypical toddler lad in that he’s super fun and very creative in the chaos he creates. “Fearless” and “active” are apt descriptions for our little guy, but even he digs helping create a meal for the family.

“Green mix!” Drew yelled when he got a sense that something was in the works, pointing at the green mixer that normally sits on our counter. To his delight, I brought it down to the floor, and then we snagged the needed ingredients from the pantry (I selected them and Drew transported them over to the mixer). Flour was measured and poured into the mixing bowl, and it was time to crack and add the eggs.

I prefer tapping eggs together to get one of them to crack, and so Drew held two eggs, my hands enveloping his. We tapped the eggs together, one of them cooperated and cracked nicely, and I shifted my hands to help him spill the cracked egg into the mixing bowl. In the moment of that shift, however, Drew’s two-year-old-ness took over and he gripped the egg as tightly as he could … and egg guts oozed while the shell shattered. Drew looked both thrilled and distraught. A little shell-picking and hand-washing later (and perhaps a touch more texture to our batter), and we were back on track.

That’s cooking with young kids in an egg nutshell: progress-mess-clean up, repeat. And – eventually – eat. Here are a few more things to keep in mind as you do so.

It’s About the Outcome and the Process

That is, have fun as you cook.

Think of this as hiking slowly in the kitchen. If the only focus is on getting to the destination (that is, the culinary outcome) as quickly and cleanly as possible, you will miss a lot of fun along the way. In all likelihood, some not fun is created instead. Don’t stress – be ready for a little mess, a few mistakes, some confusion about the difference between tablespoons and teaspoons, and some laughter. Encourage this, actually … you and your chefs-in-training will be better for it.

Let the Learning Happen

“Do you know what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda?” (use this pancake recipe to demonstrate this…or this at-home science experiment)
“Three teaspoons in a tablespoon and four tablespoons in a quarter cup.”
“Sugar tastes great … try it! Flour tastes meh … try it! Baking powder tastes yuck … take my word for it.”

Odds are you know more about cooking/baking and food than your kids. Let them in on this knowledge so that they feel like trusted kitchen companions.

Count Out Loud & Put Stuff Away

Unless you’re an accountant on the trading floor of a livestock exchange, cooking with kids is likely to feel a bit chaotic and loud. Two little practices can help you keep track of what’s in the mix and what’s yet to go into the mix.

First, count out loud. There’s something about hearing a number spoken out loud that implants it a bit more deeply into our minds and spares us the impossible task of trying to estimate how many tablespoons of sugar are blending with the pile of flour in the mixing bowl. And a bonus: this provides counting practice for the kids (even two-year-old Drew is starting to learn the rhythm of counting … if not the actual order of numbers).

Second, get all the needed ingredients out at the start of the cooking/baking fun and put them away after you’ve used them. If an ingredient is sitting next to the mixing bowl, it needs to be added in. If an ingredient is back in the pantry, it’s made its contribution. Done and done.

Sound good? Well then, make some bagels with your brood.

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Can the kitchen be a place to learn grit? a place for boys who need to move? an event that teaches lessons like those of a kids’ bathtub? a lot of (messy) fun? Yes; sometimes; for sure; and most certainly, respectively.

Picture by yoshiyasu nishikawa; Used via Creative Commons license.