Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen

Are your children welcome in the kitchen?  If not, please reconsider!  These last couple of weeks I've had a couple kiddos here past supper time.  So the oldest one helped with supper preparations.   Having a positive experience with cooking and kitchen chores at a young age will definitely effect their attitude as they get older...and on top of that...there is a lot of learning that can take well as other benefits.

Recently, I picked up another egg slicer at the dollar store.  We had used them frequently for cutting... strawberries.  :-)  Then it now we're back in action that way.  It makes it more "fun" as well as the end product being relatively pleasant to look upon.  :-P  I've had some "choppers" in the past...but 'tis fine.  It's the process...not the product...even in cooking/baking.   Caleb was to take boiled eggs in to school at Easter time and hubby forgot to take them so we had a quite a few eggs in our fridge.  One of my students saw them one morning and said, "Mmmm!  I love boiled eggs."  That was all I needed to hear!  We cracked and peeled those eggs and sliced them with the egg slicer...the first time I have actually used the egg slicer for it's primary use!  LOL  Those egg slices were beautiful...made it nice finger food and were devoured.  Removing the shell off an egg is great fine motor, by the way!  During our Humpty Dumpty theme we put a boiled egg onto a bathroom ("Dixie") cup and the children retold the rhyme and allowed their egg to fall onto the floor.  Then they worked at peeling and eating it.  :-)  Cracking eggs takes some coordination remember your kiddos when you are baking or cooking with eggs!  Practice makes perfect.  The 4 year old girl that has been with me full time this year and years in the past is almost an "expert" at cracking an egg.  Yes, you'll get a bit of a shell in it the first few times...but it doesn't take them long to figure it all out. 

I've talked about stirring in past blogs.  How often do you have to stir/beat something when you are cooking?  Let your child give it a try.  Stirring strengthens their hands and wrist.

We made pizza last week.
Using a rolling pin to help smooth out the dough, spreading pasta sauce on with the back of a spoon, placing small pieces of meat, fruit, veggies, and sprinkling again with shredded cheese are all great (and meaningful!) activities to work those fine motor skills.  Note, I put the bowls of fruit and meat on the child's left. 
I find that the children love the task of cutting. 
I allow the older ones to use paring knives but a simple table knife or plastic knife is sufficient for most foods.  I often cut them into slices and then they cut them into bite size pieces.  So when you have some left over ham...either make pizza :-) or have them cut it for you to put in the freezer for another day.  Other food items easy to cut: cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers, cucumber, bananas, bananas, cooked chicken, cheese, peaches, pears, green beans, potatoes, etc.  Really, anything with the exception of raw meat.  :-)  Celery is a challenge due to it's "stringy-ness" but older children can usually handle it.

Salads (fruit or vegetable) are also a great thing for children to be preparing.  Tearing the lettuce into small pieces is an awesome fine motor skill.  And I find that if they make the salad themselves, they are more likely to eat it.  Vary it...let them add mandarin orange and almonds, use a variety of lettuce/spinach, apples and sugared pecans (for older children and with supervision, let them make the pecans), variety of veggies, etc. 
I find that I very seldom take pictures of my kids in the kitchen because I'm usually doing something too...and by the time I remembered this time...she was almost done!  But see the salad?  She made that. Wow!  Talk about "sticking it out" until the task was done!  Yeah!

Muffins---they can pretty much do the whole thing...using paper liners adds additional fine motor and math components as mentioned in a past blog. 

Cookies---Again, pretty much on their own.  You just can't expect perfect shaped cookies...unless you have a son like mine (who's older then preschool age) who does better then I do.  :-) 
Actually, those scoops, make it easier for the children to make more uniform cookies.  This small one is easily used by my preschoolers.  I find that the next size up that I use for muffins is a little more difficult to squeeze so I fall back on the measuring cups when we are filling the muffin liners.
Cookies/cupcakes...let them decorate!

PB sandwiches are great for fine motor and coordination.  Other sandwiches also are kid friendly to make. 

Have leftover boiled potatoes?  Let them slice them for fried potatoes.

Making bread?  Let them mix and knead.

Making meatloaf?  Place the crackers into a freezer gallon bag and let them use a small roller, a child's hammer, or even their hands to crush them up.

Purchase a new pair of children's scissors and designate them as kitchen scissors.  Use where appropiate.

Break spaghetti sticks in half prior to cooking...they find this fun.  And it's less messy to eat!

Your child can always do something to help in the kitchen.  I understand there are time where "it just needs to be done" or we are just having a grumpy day and it's better we do it ourselves (yes, speaking from experience) but when you can, include them!  It really helps with attitude also.  No offense to my mother...I love and respect her (and I understand because I'm a lot like her), but we didn't spend much time in the kitchen with her growing up and when we were out on our own...hmmm, "I don't know how to cook."  Well, that was really just an attitude issue.  I believe anyone can cook if they put their mind to it and can read a recipe.  :-)  But including them now makes for children with a good attitude toward the kitchen...male and female alike!  Please let your sons in the kitchen!!!  I'm one that has benefited from having a husband who is very capable in the kitchen!  It's not just the woman's job anymore.  :-)

Also, remember to include your children in shopping trips, when possible.  You can teach about food groups, healthier choices, staying in a budget and wealth of literacy and math concepts.

You may wish to consider including them in finding new recipes...or choosing the menu.  I know some families where the children have a day where they make a meal for the family (it can be a very simple meal of crackers, cheese, cold meat, popcorn, apple slices...but it's still a meal and THEY did it!)  Encourage them to look through cookbooks and when they find a picture that looks yummy...go through the steps with them.
1)  Let's read the recipe.
2)  What ingredients do we need?  Do we have it all here or do we need to put it on the shopping list?
3) Prepare it, including your child
4) Eat and review.  Whatever their opinion is...expand on that.  So if they say, "good"...or if they say "ew!" say, "Tell me about that."
5) Consider making a child's recipe book.  Let them recall how they made the meal.  Help them write the name of the recipe at the top of the paper and draw a picture about it.  Then have them dictate the steps to make the meal.  Write it down exactly how they said it.  It'll be a keepsake for the future, that's for sure.  You may wish to attach an index card with the actual recipe to the page as well, that way if they go through "their" cookbook to find a meal...then you have the actual recipe to go by.

Kitchen Chores
Involve your children in the daily upkeep of the house. You'll be glad you did.  At first it will seem like more work for you...but it'll get better.  I promise!  In the kitchen they can
*  Clean up after they have prepared a food.
* HAND wash a few of the dishes.  This is a great sensory activity also.  
*  Wipe the table/counters/chairs.
* Sweep
*  If you use a sanitizer, allow the children to use that spray bottle.  We use Melaleuca products. Melaleuca is a company that strives to provide "safe for the family and environment" cleaning products as well as much more!  Our kids have really been involved in cleaning all through the home now that I don't have to worry about chemicals as much.  :-)
* Fill and empty the dishwasher.
* Straighten the cans in the pantry or the spices in the cupboard.
* Set and clear the table.

A side note: If you do not do family-style serving...consider it.  It takes a bit but they do become more capable with practice.   On top of the fine motor benefits, they learn about portion control, manners and patience!  Also, be sure to include a table knife with your preschool aged children and let them use it to cut their meat, veggies or use it to coordinate with their fork/spoon instead of using their fingers.  :-)

Hope your week goes smoothly! 

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