Cooking is a life skill, much like doing your laundry and budgeting. We don’t all have to be gourmets, but adults need to know what to do with raw ingredients and how to put together a decently balanced meal. Otherwise, we will have to rely on restaurants and meals that come with microwave reheating instructions for nourishment; in terms of health, neither is a reasonable choice long-term. I do a lot of cooking at home and I take pride in my creations (even the ones that ones that got a unanimous two thumbs down). I enjoy the process, most of the time. I want to foster this ability in my daughter as she grows.
That is why whenever she seems interested in what I’m doing in the kitchen, I invite her to join me. At her age, baking is the safest bet, so right now her food skills are mostly cookie-based. She is so eager to get right into it, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the prospect of high sugar treats. I’m sure that this sounds lovely and wholesome to some of you; clearly you have never tried to accomplish a task with a toddler. It’s messy, frustrating, and may include a tantrum or five. So here are some things I’m learning about the ups and downs of teaching cooking skills to a 2 year old:
(vegan sugar cookies made today; note the finger print in the cookie person as the kid insisted on helping move the dough to the pan)
- Don’t try a recipe for the first time. You can’t keep your eyes on the instructions, the food, and the kid. One of those things will destroy something….
- Don’t try multi-part recipes. Sometimes I forget that her attention span is only as long as an episode of Bubble Guppies, so the longer the baking takes, the higher the chances of a melt down. Toddlers also can’t think in many steps; when we complete a task, it’s only fair for her to expect the payoff from her work. Making the steps into separate activities (e.g. baking the cookies one day, icing them the next) is less likely to build the sense that cooking is an arduous chore.
- The more they help, the higher the risk the food will be completely inedible. Sometimes it’s a great idea to let the kids have at it, mixing what they like, measuring how they like. However, if you need those snickerdoodles for the ladies’ society afternoon tea, best to bake those alone.
- The more they help, the higher the chance of food borne illness. My daughter is into licking everything while baking. If I’m not watching her like a hawk, she will happily put licked knives back in the butter and grubby fingers into the batter. Again, and again, and again. We’re immune to most of the microbes she spawns, but I do baking meant for public consumption when she is not around.
- Give them things they can do, or modify tasks so it is safe to help. I’ve been giving her her own bowl to bake with since she could stand at the counter. Now that she’s older I let her mix, measure, dump, and use the beaters. We talk about why we have to do things certain ways. And if she actually only gets half a cup of flour in the bowl, I just sneak the rest in a little later. It’s cookies, they’re forgiving.
- If you give them ingredients to play with, they will eat them. My daughter used to eat flour by the spoonful when I first started cooking with her. Lately it is margarine. There’s something unsettling about seeing lap up teaspoons of fat. There’s worse things she could be eating….
- It’s not for you, it’s for them. Cooking with kids can get frustrating, but we need to remember that inviting them into the kitchen isn’t a punishment, nor truly about getting supper on the table. It’s about helping them learn. We won’t see the spoils of this labour for years, but it will be well worth it when we do.