It’s Not All Mary Poppins


Everyone knows that a good way to get children to try new food is to involve them in its preparation. We know that. We don’t necessarily do that.

But you know? It’s winter. If the temperatures are at least -15C (without a wind), we go outside. But as you can imagine, at -15, the tots don’t last neeeearly as long as they do at +15C. And in January and February in Ottawa, we get more than a few days a whole lot colder than -15. So. A lot more indoor hours to fill, and, I know you may find this hard to believe, but even crafty Mary gets tired of crafts!!!

Why not, I thought, fill some of those hours with food preparation? I have a weekly menu. I know what’s on the list for that day and the next. This could be fun!

Very often, even when we do involve kids, they’re baking, not cooking. They’re making cookies and muffins and cakes. All fine for teaching a certain set of kitchen skills, but nothing to do with familiarizing them with foods they might not otherwise choose to eat. What kid needs to be coaxed to eat cookies? (And if they do, why on earth would you?? If you’re coaxing your child to eat cookies, stoppit right now!)

Now, I’ve done real cooking with the children before, but sporadically and infrequently. It’s time, I decided, to get systematic about this!

So as of this week, in the hour between arrival and our outing, I thought we’d hit the kitchen. On Monday, we made muffins, of course. Yes, I know it’s baking, not cooking, but Muffin Monday is a tradition, thanks to Hannah! No messing with tradition!

Tuesday: They helped make the green bean dish, because apart from chopping the onions, it’s simple, simple, simple.
Wednesday: Baked apples! They can drop the goodies down the core of the apple. Also, because Thursday’s tofu needs to marinate, they’ll help me mix the marinade and put the slices of tofu in the pan.
Thursday: They can help make the cheese sauce for the cauliflower. (Shall I send them home knowing the word ‘roux‘, just to show off??)
Friday: Veggie frittata cups. They can choose one veggie each, I’ll chop them all up, they’ll spoon the veggies into the muffin cups and pour the egg mix over top, I’ll put it in the oven. Teamwork!

I like it. What are the advantages? It…
– keeps us busy
– fills in time we can’t be outside
– it’s companionable
– familiarizes the tots with their food
– making it more likely that they’ll eat their food
– gives them kitchen competence
– and builds a sense of teamwork…

all in a happy atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie.

And if they’re really, really good? I’ll let them do the dishes, too.


February 20, 2013 - Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , ,


  1. I want to get Owl involved in cooking but I’m not sure how to. He’s so SMALL, even if he stood on a stool he wouldn’t reach the counter…

    For the threes, I use a chair, with the back facing the counter. It’s counter-intuitive, but if they know there’s NOT a back behind them, they take fewer chances. I shudder when one of them, while standing on a chair, decides to lean back against the back of it. We all know how that’s going to end…

    Mostly, though, we work at the toddler table, because when there are two or three or more helping, there simply isn’t enough counter space in my small kitchen! I keep it in the back porch mostly (cf above, ‘small kitchen’), but can be easily toted out for cooking times. So instead of the kids standing on chairs, we have children standing at their table, and Mary either bending over, or on her knees on the floor.

    Comment by IfByYes | February 20, 2013 | Reply

  2. The summer holidays when Ronan turned five was the time I had each of us take turns to cook dinner every evening. He tended to make salads, scrambled eggs, something on toast, but he did all the cooking himself and most of the preparation, every five nights. And the cooker was an Aga, so very hot. Now 28, he’s a keen and accomplished cook.

    Oh, and when my children were little I used to sit them on the counter while I prepared food. They saw everything I did, could taste and do any jobs within their capabilities. It’s safer than a stool when they’re very small.

    This is an area in which my own children were deprived. My love of cooking has only arisen in the last 5 – 10 years, so, sadly, though they all worked alongside me in the kitchen at various times and have the ability to read a recipe, none of them, with the exception of the eldest who lives on her own and has had to learn, really have an internal repertoire of ‘things I can make’. Still, they all have a good attitude to cooking, and largely healthy eating habits, so I must’ve done a decent enough job. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Z | February 20, 2013 | Reply

  3. Oh, “roux” that’s how you spell it. All this time I’ve thought myself so clever for making my sauces from scratch only to find out I’ve been spelling it “rue”. πŸ˜›

    At least you know how to pronounce it! Before Christmas I was ordering a gift from a catalogue, and the lovely young man on the phone suggested that I might also like to purchase the “fox pearls” on page 63. “Fox” pearls? As in pearls of the ill-mannered right? Noooo… ‘faux’ pearls. As in fake.

    I think, if you’re going to use the French word with the French meaning, you might just as well at least approximate the French pronunciation. I did manage not to laugh in his ear.

    Comment by Sheri | February 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Hehehehe, thanks. That’s a cute story, good on you you didn’t laugh at him..out loud. Yes, I suppose it would have been much worse for me to go around bragging about how I make my own sauces from a “rooks”. Perspective. πŸ˜›

      Comment by Sheri | February 20, 2013 | Reply

  4. My oldest is almost 8, and he has always helped me in the kitchen. Lately, he has suddenly decided he wants to TAKE OVER in the kitchen. So for starters I put him in charge of preparing the vegetables that we’re having each evening, but I’m working up to letting him make simple meals by himself. It’s a big scary thing for me to step back and let him just do what he’s gonna do– there’s a loss of quality control that is hard for me to take. But I’m keeping my eye on the prize of his eventually being a confident cook and even more helpful. This is all complicated, however, by the fact that we also have two toddlers who love to “help”. Aieee.

    Cooking is so good for kids, though!

    Comment by rosie_kate | February 20, 2013 | Reply

  5. Definitely teach them the words! Children don’t know that certain words are “fancy”, let’s expand their vocabulary while they’re still soaking up language like a sponge! (And in your house I’d guess they have an unusually large one already.)

    Comment by May | February 21, 2013 | Reply

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