Friday, November 18, 2011

Cooking with Kids

This is the last post about food for a while, I just had so much to say that I couldn't squeeze it all into one post for the Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Food preparation is full of great lessons for a child of any age. The opportunity to provide something so basic for oneself is a huge self esteem booster, and parents can use the shared time to discuss all kinds of things like healthy food choices, where the food comes from, tidbits about food science or how to measure ingredients. Older children can help read the recipe and practice fractions by reading the measuring cups or using (for example) two ¼ cups instead of a ½ cup.
Make sure to choose a recipe that doesn't have to be perfect, and that has something for your child to do at each step of the process. If you like, you can prepare a binder of simple and appropriate recipes for your child to choose from. (Check this post for instructions about how to make a child's cookbook.)
A food that is prepared on a tabletop and then baked or otherwise cooked works out best, unless your child is mature enough to help you at the stove top. Choose a recipe that won't strain your child's attention span too much – I've found that my toddlers tend to lose focus after forty-five minutes or an hour, and if the recipe takes longer than that I'm finishing it by myself. An older child would probably focus longer. Make sure you plan for it to take about twice as long as it would if you were doing it by yourself.
With a toddler, it's important to have all the ingredients and materials ready before you begin – if ingredients need to be room temperature take them out of the refrigerator ahead of time. Have the project ready to go and invite him to join you at a moment when he isn't busy. An older child can help pick the recipe and gather the materials, and still be engaged for the entire activity.
Once the materials are assembled, remind the child to wash his hands and put on an apron. Then give direction by showing what to do. If ingredients need to be cut, Use a cutting board to define the work space and protect your table. A wavy cutter or butter knife is safe for little hands and you can show what size to cut the pieces (but don't be too picky or he might get discouraged). A more proficient child can use a sharp knife with supervision.
If ingredients need to be measured, you can show how to use the back of a butter knife to scrape off the excess from the measuring cup or spoon – toddlers find this absolutely magical. Eggs can be cracked into a mug or bowl first, and checked for shell pieces before adding to the main bowl. The pieces will stick better to a large piece of shell than to a finger.
Have your child help you clean up while the food is cooking. He can put away ingredients, wash dishes in a pair of basins or help load the dishwasher, and wipe the table. An older child (or a younger child with some guidance) could sort trash from compost and recyclables. He can also set the table for the meal or snack; if you want to get really fancy, pick up a book about napkin folding and try a few folds out together.
Finally, I have one somewhat controversial piece of advice for you: consider letting your child use a toaster oven for baking. Get a pair of child sized oven mitts and show how to put food in with the oven mitts on. You can cut down an adult pair (leave the arms long) or make your own. After he develops consistent control, you can let him take the food out, too. I have seen three-year-olds use a toaster oven safely... the key is adult guidance. Never leave your child alone with a hot appliance and if you have any doubts about his ability to use it safely, don't offer it as an option. But don't underestimate him, either – a vast majority of children will instinctively understand that using real tools carries the responsibility of being careful. They take it very seriously.
The most important thing to do when cooking with a child is to have fun and to make it fun for him. It's a great opportunity for learning and bonding, but he won't want to do it at all if the experience is stressful, and neither will you. Honestly, it's a lot easier and more fun than you might think!

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Make a Children's Cookbook

This cookbook is intended to make cooking as simple as possible, for a young child to do independently. Making it yourself ensures that all the recipes meet your family's nutritional goals and you can include only foods your child likes or add new foods to try. The list of ingredients can be in picture form for a child who doesn't read yet, and knowledge of fractions is not necessary to follow the recipes! It will quickly become your child's favorite resource.

What you'll need:
simple, healthy, recipes that don't require tools your child can't use independently (can opener, vegetable peeler, etc). You can start with only a few recipes and add to the cookbook as time passes.

Plain colored measuring cups and spoons – metal or clear/white plastic.
Colored dot stickers – at least 6 different colors
A three-ring binder and three hole punch
for a very young child: camera and all ingredients OR internet photo search skills

Step 1: Attach a different color of dot sticker to the handle of each measuring tool. Don't repeat colors! Secure each one with a small square of packing tape.

Step 2: Title the recipe and, optionally, put a picture of the finished food at the top.

Step 3: List the ingredients in a column using your word processor. Indent them ½ inch. Underneath, write the directions as simply as possible – for very young children use pictures instead of typing the words, and use recipes where all the ingredients are simply mixed together so no directions are needed.

Step 4: Format it in an easy to read font (like Century Gothic) and arrange the margins to your liking. Make the left margin bigger (I used 1.5 inch) so the words don't get chopped up when you hole punch it later.

Step 5: Print the recipes. Add colored dot stickers next to each ingredient to show which measuring cup to use – this is why you indented the ingredients list earlier. If you need two cups, put two dots that match the one on the measuring cup.

Step 6: Laminate the recipes! If you don't laminate your pages they will be floppy and get dirty fast! If you don't have a laminator, you can have it done at a copy shop or teaching store. They also sell cold press laminating sheets that don't go through a machine, but I haven't ever used those so I can't say as to their quality or ease of use.

Step 7: Hole punch the recipes and load them into the binder. Add more as you discover them, and as your child gets older you can begin to use recipes with more complex directions.

Some ideas to start with:
Fruit Salad - list fruits that you usually have at home.
Egg Salad - keep hard boiled eggs ready on a low shelf.
Yogurt Parfait – plain yogurt, chopped fruit, nuts/granola or dry cereal.
Tuna Spread – tuna from a pouch, mayo or mayo substitute, and celery.
Deviled Eggs – cut hard boiled eggs in half and mix yolks with mayo or mayo substitute, then scoop back in.

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Independent Food Preparation: My Toddler Can Do That?

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

It seems to be a cultural norm that children under a certain age are simply served food, without having any chance to participate in making it or even choosing it. It's much easier than showing a child what to do and giving him time to do it... in the short term. In the long term, giving children some control over what they eat not only saves time, it also promotes independence and a positive attitude toward food.
There are a lot of ways that a toddler (and therefore also an older child) can prepare his own snacks, and they only require a minimum of preparation.
I like to have a fruit, a vegetable, a grain, and a protein available for children to snack on, and pack them up an hour or so before mealtimes. If your child is on a special diet, use your judgment. The idea is to offer a variety of healthy foods – three or four choices are ideal.
For most foods (like celery, cucumber, carrots, pears, or melon), you'll need to set up a cutting work. The tools you will need are a tray, a child sized apron, a small cutting board, and a crinkle cutter. I like to make them match, so that it is obvious that they go together and are used for a single activity. If your child is older and you feel comfortable with it, you could skip the wavy cutter and provide a knife instead – but keep it out of reach of younger siblings who aren't ready to use one safely yet.
Do a little pre-cutting, so that the foods are already in a single serving size and have a flat edge. For an English cucumber, for example, I would remove the ends, slice lengthwise, and then cut each half into three or four segments. In the classroom, I put a few on a plate with a glass dome over it next to the cutting work, but you could just as easily put it in a container in the refrigerator. Just make sure it's low enough for your child to reach independently – if you prepare more of a particular food than you want your child to eat in a day, store the rest up higher and move it within reach later. Also be sure to use a container that he can open himself.
Cheese can be cut with the cutting work, or you could get a cheese slicer. I find them at thrift stores fairly often for only a few dollars.
For foods like hard boiled eggs, mushrooms (as part of a larger cooking project) and strawberries with tops removed, use a heavy duty egg slicer. If you only plan to use it for eggs, you could buy a cheap one at the grocery store or dollar store. Strawberries and mushrooms are a bit firmer, and might break one that isn't so strong.
For apples, we use an apple cutter. First I slice the apple in half (so the top and bottom are separate, not the left and right). I try to get small ones, which are easier for children to cut. Show how to center the corer over the stem and push down hard – this one takes some strength and practice – in my experience most children are able to do it independently around age 3.
The grains we provide at Dynamite are usually some variation of cracker or pretzel, which the children serve themselves with a scoop or tongs. If you buy prepackaged bags of those items, teach your child how to open the bag with scissors.
The theme running through all of these ideas is guided independence. You, the adult, offer appropriate foods in appropriate amounts, and let the child decide what to eat. Since the options are all healthy, you can feel good about whatever decision he makes. Since he decides when he's hungry, what to eat, and how much he wants, he is practicing listening to the needs of his body. It's win-win! And if you ever had them, you can forget about mealtime struggles because you'll know he has healthy food options at other times of the day.

FYI – links are NOT affiliate links; I have provided them to clarify what I meant when I named certain tools. I have not used the actual brands I linked to, and while I have no reason to doubt them, I also can't vouch for their quality.

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 8 with all the carnival links.)

  • Baking & letting go — Cooking with kids can be a mess. Nadia at Red White & GREEN Mom is learning to relax, be patient, and have fun with the process.
  • Family feeding in Child of Mine — Lauren at Hobo Mama reviews Ellyn Satter's suggestions for appropriate feeding and points out where her family has problems following through.
  • Children with Knives! (And other Kitchen Tools) — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy teaches her children how to safely use knives.
  • "Mommy, Can I Help?" — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how she lets her kiddos help out with cooking, despite her {sometimes} lack of patience!
  • Solids the Second Time Around — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts her experiences introducing solids to her second child.
  • The Adventure of Toddler TastebudsThe Accidental Natural Mama shares a few things that helped her daughter develop an adventurous palate.
  • A Tradition of Love — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy looks forward to sharing the kitchen traditions passed on from her mom and has already found several ways to involve baby in the kitchen.
  • The Very Best Classroom — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts reveals how her kitchen is more than a place to make food - it's a classroom!
  • Raising Little Chefs — Chef Mike guest posts on Natural Parents Network about how he went from a guy who couldn't cook to a chef who wanted to teach his boys to know how the food we love is made.
  • In the Kitchen with my kids — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares a delicious soup recipe that her kids love.
  • Papa, the Pancake Artist — Papa's making an incredible breakfast over at Our Mindful Life.
  • Kids won't eat salad? Try this one! — Tat at Mum in Search is sharing her children's favourite salad recipe.
  • Recipe For a Great Relationship — Cooking with kids is about feeding hearts as well as bellies, writes Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • The Ritual of Mealtimes — Syenna at Gently Parenting Twins writes about the significance of mealtimes in her family’s daily rhythm.
  • Kid, Meet Food. Food, Kid. — Alburnet at What's Next? panicks about passing on her food "issues" to her offspring.
  • Growing Up in the Kitchen — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares how her son is growing up in the kitchen.
  • Harvesting Corn and History — From Kenna at School Garden Year: The kids in the school garden harvest their corn and learn how much history grows in their food.
  • My Guiding Principles for Teaching my Child about Food — Tree at Mom Grooves uses these guiding principles to give her daughter a love of good food and an understanding of nutrition as well as to empower her to make the best choices for her body.
  • Kitchen Control — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro writes about her struggles to relinquish control in the kitchen to her children.
  • Food — Emma at Your Fonder Heart lets her seven month old teach her how to feed a baby.
  • Kitchen Fun? — Adrienne at Mommying My Way questions how much fun she can have in a non-functional kitchen, while trying to remain positive about the blessings of cooking for her family.
  • Kitchen Adventures — Erica at ChildOrganics shares fun ways to connect with your kids in the kitchen.
  • Kids in the Kitchen: Finding the Right Tools — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings shares some of her favorite child-sized kitchen gadgets and where to find them.
  • The Kitchen Classroom — Laura at Authentic Parenting knows that everything your kids want to learn is at the end of the ladle.
  • Kids in the Kitchen — Luschka from Diary of a First Child talks about the role of the kitchen in family communication and shares fun kitchen activities for the under two.
  • Our Kitchen is an Unschooling Classroom. — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle explores the many ways her kitchen has become a rich environment for learning.
  • Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation for Preschoolers — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares lots of resources for using Montessori food preparation activities for young children in the kitchen.
  • My Little Healthy Eater — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares her research on what is the best first food for babies, and includes a healthy and yummy breakfast recipe.
  • Two Boys and Papa in the Kitchen: Recipe for Disaster?MudpieMama shares all about her fears, joys and discoveries when the boys and handsome hubby took over the kitchen.
  • Food choices, Food treats — Henrietta at Angel Wings and Herb Tea shares her family's relationship with food.
  • learning to eat — Catherine at learner mummy reflects on little M's first adventures with food.