What I have noticed is that when our son Trent is involved in cooking he’s more likely to try whatever we cook together. This is especially evident in breakfast. Trent was never a breakfast eater until we started making French Toast together. Now it’s a big deal whether we crack eggs for bacon & eggs, make waffles (his favorite) or pancakes. He still won’t eat eggs but he’ll eat French Toast. When he was almost 3 we began making banana chocolate chip muffins together. He’s excited to make them and excited to eat them too!
At 3 years old, he loves to cook, but isn't necessarily that interested in eating the finished product – but he loves the process. Here's a photo of the cake he decorated for me for Mother's Day:
Trent-decorated Mother's Day Cake
Cooking together doesn't mean necessarily big projects or even little ones. Just a task in a normal meal creation makes all the difference to your helper. Cracking an egg, stirring a bowl, turning the blender (or food processor) on and off, washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, etc. ("The helping process." - Jack)
Trent has managed to master the peeler with help, and can peel a potato or carrot with great gusto and glee - apples and pears are still too slippery for him, though. (Obviously we watch him carefully.) On occasion he will "cut bread" or vegetables by placing his hand over ours as we cut. Tasting is a big part of cooking and he loves to taste all the ingredients we cook with. From flour to nuts to carrots to vanilla. Anything that is safe to try we let him try.
His favorite spice is Paprika. In fact he makes his own "mud pies" at our counter with play pots and pans and a set of inexpensive plastic spice jars and some old ones filled with flour sugar and salt. Add a bit of water in a measuring cup and the little chef creates.
Gingerbread House #4 Cooking with a
Trent is starting to be able to do a lot more in the kitchen. He’s grasped the idea of being careful and is incredibly enthusiastic to help. From grating cheese to peeling potatoes to chopping vegetables he’s starting to take a more active part with close supervision.
We are privileged to have a no less than four cooking schools nearby, so I sometimes take classes on an interesting subject. Last September, I signed him up for the local Sur La Table Kid’s cooking classes for Halloween. They offered two: Haunted Gingerbread House building and a Halloween cooking party. He had a ball in both classes – not so much about the actual cooking – but about the other older children there and that cooking was fun and social. I did more of the decorating on the house than he did and he ate his weight in candy – but in the midst of the session – in *both* classes – completely unprovoked – he told me “Thank you Mother – this is so much fun, I just love it!”
The Halloween party class was a real eye-opener to me. Part of the class was demonstration, part assembly. Trent was amazingly patient and attentive during the demonstration. He was really interested in what was going on! Christine Law of Postrio taught the class and it was a really wonderful 90 minutes.
Trent likes to be included, as all children do, and the thought I would take him with me to a cooking class was special. He’d seen me go off and come home with samples and stories. This was his chance to share in that fun. The classes aren’t cheap $45-$50 but if you want to get the same sort of effect at home you can for much less – with either a store bought house kit or one you’ve made, just buy some extra candy and decorations. Invite your child’s friends to come and help decorate – they can bring a house or you can make them one.
Gingerbread Haunted House #1
Plant a Vegetable Garden
(From the smell of tomato leaves to the flight of bumble bees and butterflies, growing your own food is very rewarding for kids. And it's important for them to make the connection that food comes from the earth, not some giant store, shrink-wrapped or plastic boxed. - Jack)
We suggest starting with peas, strawberries, tomotoes, zucchini, fennel and all kinds of beans. These are pretty easy to plant and grow, and are easy for kids to harvest. Having a good quantity of vegetables and fruits that can be eaten raw in the garden is really important.
Peas are a great food to grow for kids. If you have some space with some sun– even a half wine barrel with a trellis. Most kids love to pick and eat peas in the garden, including ours. Trent will pick a pod, open it up and pop the sweet green peas into his mouth then he’s off for another. He’ll pick broccoli bits to eat off the plants and likes to pull radishes (even if he doesn’t like to eat them!) and carrots.
Strawberries are a big hit of Spring through Fall; we have Alpine red and white, and Quinalt growing. Trent likes to check and see what is ripe. Raspberries too are a huge hit this year (2006) We planted them in a raised bed to control and they've done fantastically well. We planted "Heritage". Trent will go out for a snack and invites his playmates to sample too.
Tomatoes, too, are fantastic for kids. They love to watch the little green guys get big and change color. Tomatoes can also be grown in pots on a deck or even a windowsill. Plant some marigolds with them!
Plant a small Herb Garden
Herbs are great for kids to smell and cook with. Start with rosemary, sage (we recommend pineapple sage, as kids love it), thyme, and basil. You can do mint as well, but understand it spreads like crazy.
It’s been FIX one of our favorite things (and has been since Trent was a baby) to go out in the garden and have him smell herbs and flowers, and taste herbs and vegetables just picked (even when he spit them out). Now he loves to pick flowers for people and will very often smell the flowers on his own.
I think most parents reach the point when a child just won't eat a variety of things (or eat things you'd like him to eat). Here's a trick we came up with that might work for you. (Keep the idea fresh by making this an occasional treat, not a routine. - Jack)
One thing we’ve found really useful in getting Trent to try different foods and to eat more rounded meals in general is serving them in courses with great fanfare. Whether we take lunch or dinner outside or stay in – serving one thing in a course. For instance for lunch we had leftovers in courses: Course#1: Champagne grapes, Course #2: Lamb stew, Course #3: Cooked fresh shell beans, Course #4: Vanilla ice cream (just a taste), and Course #5: Frozen peas (still frozen of course!). Each course might be a surprise, or he or she is only told the following one. Courses end when the child is full.
Hints? I suggest a fruit, a vegetable (or two or three) and a protein (meat, fish, eggs, poultry, cheese).
Another fun thing to do is an hor d'oeuvres course prior to the meal or even for a snack after dinner – with the leftover from dinner or a crudités and dip, etc.
The best kitchen aid that we ever found for Trent was a product called The Learning Tower. It’s a platform which 1-2 kids can stand in and it sits flush with the kitchen counter.
The tower allows him to be at the kitchen counter to cook or play. He was suddenly at our level of height and the world changed for him. He could be involved. We nicknamed the tower his “Siege Tower” and now he “helps” whenever he can in the kitchen plus he can see what’s going on anytime he wants. We park it away from the counter when we’re not in the kitchen so he knows that the counters are off limits unless an adult is around.
The other great part of the Learning Tower is that it fits two children comfortably so that they can both cook together! It is a very sturdy design, so it's very stable (we’ve never had it tip) and it’s not easy to fall out of, although you have to watch the side holes when kids are very young or very active. While it’s not inexpensive, it’s well made, solid wood and adjustable. It will last through multiple children. We use it everyday - multiple times.
It should be considered an investment in the child’s future. It doesn’t break down to store it and has a big footprint, so you’ll want to consider where you will store it when not using it in a small kitchen (or apartment).
Got kid? Need Tower!
The Learning Tower ranks as our best purchase ever, for our child. Used almost every day for more than 4 years, it's simply great for allowing your little chef to cook or play cook in your kitchen. More here.