I remember the moment I realized how capable kids can be in the kitchen. It was a late summer afternoon when my son Cal was 5 years old. His older brother, Eli, was in the middle of a complex Lego project, and I was trying desperately to put baby Sadie down for a nap.
Cal was hungry and came into the bedroom a few times to ask when I would be able to help him. At my wit's end, I finally asked him to try and find his own snack. He smiled and took off for the kitchen. I was thinking he'd find something within reach on the counter that required no preparation, like an apple or banana, but he had a better idea. I emerged from Sadie's room 15 minutes later to find him at the table, eating a slightly messy but otherwise perfectly respectable peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he'd prepared all by himself.
I was amazed. It hadn't yet occurred to me to ask him to make his own sandwich. I'd never shown him how. But clearly he'd just been waiting for the opportunity. I started inviting him to help me cook and bake more often. Now, two years later, he's still my most enthusiastic assistant. We even have a plan to open our own bakery someday. "When I'm old enough to have a real job," he says.
Working on cooking projects can be a great way to spend time with your kids. And, as I learned from Cal, it's never too early to start teaching them kitchen skills! Here are a few tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
Plan ahead — at least a little: Decide what you're making in advance so you can be sure you have all the ingredients. More than once, I've spontaneously suggested we make something delicious and roped everyone in, only to find we were missing some key component. No fun.
Do the prep: If you're working with kids under 5, it's a good idea to get all of your ingredients and tools ready before you start. If you're fumbling around looking for the measuring cups or baking soda, you're providing the perfect opportunity for your toddler to upend an entire five-pound bag of flour. I speak from experience.
Keep your expectations realistic: If you're making a dessert to bring to a dinner party, you probably don't want your 3-year-old to help. Start out with easy recipes that leave room for improvisation and a few mistakes, and be ready for the final product to come out less than perfect. Muffins, quick breads, cookies and granola are some of my favorites.
Don't forget to have fun: Kids will pick up on your feelings about an activity. If you're enjoying yourself, they will too. Don't worry about spills, messes or some wasted ingredients. The fun of taking something you made together out of the oven and sharing it more than makes up for a messy kitchen.
Here's a recipe from the City Market website that I love to make with my family. These cheese crackers work for kids of all ages; my 11-year-old likes making them as much as my preschooler. The recipe technically takes two days, but the day-before prep is super easy. I like to get these started on Friday night, then set up a cracker-making assembly line after breakfast on Saturday morning.
Adapted from citymarket.coop
This is a flexible, forgiving dough that can stand up to lots of rolling (and re-rolling!) with kids. It's also very moist, so you can feel free to add plenty of flour during the rolling process without drying it out. Omit the cheese or the sesame seeds for a plain cracker. But if you do, add an extra - teaspoon of salt and a few shakes of black pepper for more flavor.
Let the crackers cool for a few minutes before digging in. They're delicious with hummus, cheese or yogurt dip! Store them in a paper bag on the counter for up to three days.
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