I used to try to keep Avery entertained while I cooked dinner. It ALWAYS ended poorly. We don’t have an open kitchen (something I pine for daily), so I would first attempt to get A to play in the actual kitchen. This usually lasted about 2 minutes (at best). Then I would spend my time split between attempting to cook and sprinting into the other room (preferably without knife in hand) anytime I heard a loud noise or (as most parents know) the more frightening sound — silence. Silence almost always means something really not good is happening, has happened or is about to happen. Needless to say, most meals ended up burned, missing ingredients, or just plain inedible.
Full disclosure: I am a terrible chef to begin with. I am most decidedly NOT Martha Stewart. I refuse to cook anything that requires measuring exactly (or measuring at all for that matter). I secretly dream of being on Worst Chef’s in America so that I can learn to cook Pinterest worthy meals. I am not an aspiring Food Network star…BUT eating home cooked, healthy meals is something that is über important to me…so I had to figure something out.
Clearly, attempting to entertain a toddler AND cook was NOT going to work, so I switched gears. I decided to make cooking a fun early evening activity we could do together. And it was a HUGE success! We started going to the Farmer’s Market to shop for fruits and vegetables. I would let Avery help me pick out our produce and meet the farmers. I quickly found that if he picked out the veggies and knew they came from the farmers that ‘grew them in the ground,’ he had far more interest in actually eating them.
We don’t have one of those fancy “kitchen helpers”, so at first I would just put a bowl on the floor and he would help me
trim rip the ends off green beans and asparagus, pop off mushroom caps, and “cut” (a.k.a. tear apart by hand) broccoli. He LOVED it! Surprising added bonus: he loved eating raw veggies as we were cooking. I think he is convinced eating raw veggies is something he’s not “supposed” to do, so he’ll ask me if he can have some like he’s sneaking a piece of chocolate cake and then happily shove raw kale, green beans and mushrooms into his mouth by the fistful. It’s hysterical and adorable…and I fully intend on letting him continue thinking that it’s a super cool treat to eat raw veggies.
Anyways. We graduated from a bowl on the floor to plopping him on a regular old step stool from Target or Home Depot or somewhere like that – it’s a metal fold up two-step ladder. Nothing fancy. I put a colander in the sink and let him use the spray nozzle to wash the veggies, and then when I’m chopping, he practices cutting with his Melissa & Doug cutting board, knife and play food. On the rare occasion I use an actual recipe, I measure out the ingredients and then let him pour them in.
The more we cook together, the more he gets involved. We started cooking together at around 15 months and now almost a year later, he still loves it and is getting more involved with every meal. Earlier this week he even mixed in all the ingredients for a salmon marinade and brushed them on each fillet all by himself. It’s so nice, especially on days when I have class or am working, to come home and be able to spend quality time AND get dinner cooked.
It may take a little longer to get the actual meal made, but it is FAR less stressful and far more successful. He’s having fun. I’m getting dinner made. It’s a win-win!
So, if you are having a hard time entertaining your little one and putting dinner on the table. Or you are trying to fit in quality time and making dinner at the end of the day…try making him or her your sous-chef!
The worst that could happen is they eat some raw veggies.
Check out the first webisode of Rockin’ Mama Life presents: Cooking with Kids! where we make simple, quick, no recipe, no skill needed HEALTHY pizzas! And then, let me know your favorite meals to cook with your kids!