Cooking Up Family Connections

While we’ve all heard the old lament about too many cooks, sometimes too much help in the kitchen can be a good thing.

When Dr. T. Berry Brazelton was in Tulsa last year, he wholeheartedly supported even young children helping in the kitchen. He said there was no better way to give kids a sense of family, and that even a two-year-old can help set the table.

With the holidays coming, and all the new and intriguing activities that surround them, it is a foregone conclusion your children will get drawn to the kitchen while you’re busy preparing your feasts. One way to keep kids from being underfoot is to give them activities they can accomplish on their own.

Children grow emotionally from the completion of manageable activities, and these ready hands can be helpful if preplanned opportunities are available to them.

“I always remove the sharp utensils from the dishwasher, then ask my two-year-old to unload the rest and sort them in the drawer,” said Tonya Lee.

In our household, when my daughter learned she could cut bananas with a plastic knife, that became the dessert that was trotted out at every meal—for weeks. When she discovered she could put her banana disks into small cups with grapes and cherries, you would have thought we had gone gourmet.

Children want to help, and they want to be a part of every activity. The kitchen is often the hub of family energy—especially during the holidays—and no one should feel left out.

“Toddlers can easily help with a relish tray,” said Maggie Johnson, a mom of three. “They can spread out the baby carrots, and my youngest son loves to spread peanut butter or cheese into the celery sticks. Of course, he also tries to stick raisins and olives into the spread, too, so our celery takes on a quite unique look.”

With the help of a stepstool, toddlers can also wash and scrub fruits and vegetables, and they are terrific, and often extremely meticulous, at wiping off countertops.

Making a salad? Let your toddler rip up the lettuce. They can roll out dough, cut cookies with cookie-cutters, and place them on baking sheets. And frost cupcakes—though they will likely sample, too. Toddlers can shape meatballs, or shake plastic bags in which you’ve added different seasoning ingredients. They are also great at whisking, though you may have to do the side scraping at the end.

Another thing to try when doing a baking project is pre-measure all ingredients ahead of time, and then let your toddler pour them in as needed. My daughter used to do this for me, and if she’d seen a cooking show recently she would pretend we were on one, too, and would mug for an imaginary camera.

The best way to build confidence is through repeated actions, and for young children there is nowhere they want to be more than where they can help mom or dad. Offering ways they can assist will not only add to their self-esteem and give them that feeling-of-family, but will help them learn and refine talents needed in their futures.

The smiles, memories, and added help they give you are all just bonuses.

Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones