How do you fit history, mathematics, chemistry, geography, reading, art, & health into one hour with a preschooler? Get in the kitchen with them & cook up a storm!!! Reese has loved to help in the kitchen since he was a tiny guy, and we are in the kitchen together almost daily putting together some recipe.
There's a few things one must "let go" of before bringing a 4 year old into the kitchen. First, you can't just be "OK" with a mess, you must expect a mess! There's more flour in the nooks & crannies of my kitchen than I care to notice, but the learning & fun behind all that flour has been priceless. One day while Reese and I baked a Chicken Pot Pie together, he decided to empty the entire flour canister into the pie plate, spoon by spoon, telling me all about the blueberry pie he was making. Sure, it made a mega-mess. Yes, it used up almost all the flour I had. Yep, I had to bake my Pot Pie in a different dish. Messes clean up, flour is cheap, and my square pot pie was just as tasty. But had I stopped Reese from making his pie, he would have missed telling me the steps to make a pie, all the fine motor skills in scooping & pouring, and the pride in making something of his own. That's WAY more important that some flour & chicken!
Second, you have to give yourself twice as long to do anything in the kitchen with a child. They want to be a part of the "grown up world" and that includes all aspects of cooking...measuring, chopping, pouring, egg-cracking. All those tasks we take for granted, but from a child's eye, are very important work. Instead of steam rolling ahead with your recipe, take a deep breath and roll up your sleeves, and hand your child a measuring cup! I am always amazed at how quickly Reese learns different units of measure, and I'm even more amazed that he's almost perfected his egg cracking skills! But, all these new experiences for Reese take much, much longer than if I were doing it myself. Again, I have to remember, what's really important? The fact that I can mix a batch of zucchini bread in 10 minutes myself, or the fact that by taking 30 minutes, I have spent time with my 4 year old, and he's learned to measure, pour, mix, read labels & ingredients, observe matter changing as flour turns into batter, and clean (just to name a few of the things he's learned!). Give yourself permission to just let go, and ignore the clock.
Third, learn to say YES more often! The last time we used baking soda in a recipe, my son wanted to taste it. My first instinct was to say no, because I already know it's salty and gross. But what a harmless experiment for him! Of course, he disliked it greatly, but I wasn't handing him my own experiences...I was letting him have his own. So you're baking chocolate chip cookies, and Junior wants to eat the chocolate chips? Go for it! Haven't had dinner yet? So what! A few measly chocolate chips aren't going to spoil any one's dinner, and even if they do, aren't the memories of spending time with Mom & Dad in the kitchen worth more than a less-than-well-eaten meal?
Last, prepare yourself for a new-tasting dish. With all that measuring you're doing with a preschooler, there's bound to be too much of this or not enough of that. Unless you completely skip an ingredient, it won't be exactly the dish you had planned perhaps, but it will taste even better because it was made with a secret ingredient. No, not love. That's too generic. I'm talking about PRIDE. The pride your child gets from doing a "big person" task, with all the purpose and responsibility and tools that we big people have.
Cooking with a preschooler is certainly not easy. It's not something to do when you're tired & grumpy. I can be frustrating, but it doesn't have to be. It's all about deciding ahead of time to roll with the flow, let messes happen, & focus on making memories & spending time working together instead of fussing. Trust me, the end result is worth it in the end!
What about all those "subjects" I listed in the first sentence? Where do all those fit in with cooking? Check out this article titled "Kids Learn While Cooking" to find out how cooking contributes to all of those. It's really amazing when you think about how far reaching it can be!
What made me think about writing the above? Reese and I spent the morning at Dinner Station putting together some meals for the family! One of our neighbors set up a Kids' Day, and I was so excited to bring Reese with me this time.
Essentially, Dinner Station is a place to go assemble multiple meals at one time. Each "meal" has a different table, with all the ingredients & measuring utensils out and ready to use. You simply follow the recipe provided, and put all your uncooked ingredients in the aluminum baking dishes provided. Then, you slap on your lid & label with cooking instructions, then move onto your next dish. Once you get home, you've got a freezer full of great, from-scratch meals that took a fraction of the time since you're doing it all at once. I've gone to the Dinner Station before with Moms groups, but this was the first time I brought Reese.
I can't think of a better set-up for cooking with kids! Reese's best buddy, Reed, was there too so it was extra fun. Luckily Reed's Mommy did the same dishes we did, so the boys were able to go from station to station together. Reese kept hugging Reed and telling him he loved him--melts my heart to see that! I imagine after a few more years, telling your best friend you love him won't be "cool". So I'm glad they're young enough to still love a friend & tell them!
Here's Reese & Reed when we first arrived. Reese was soooo happy to see Reed!
Mixing the filling for Cheesey Chicken Enchiladas. This dish is one of Daddy's favorites!
Here's the whole group of neighborhood kids who gathered to cook today. I handed Reese & Reed some spatulas to pose with because I thought it would be cute. They quickly turned them into swords. Go figure!