As I was making cookies this afternoon with my three year old daughter, Emma, I thought about the things I do to make cooking with her enjoyable for both of us. I absolutely love to cook and bake, and I want my children to experience the joy of creating delicious and healthy food to eat. I have baked with my children often, usually cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, homemade ice cream, and several other desserts. It has taken me a long time and several rough cooking episodes for me to be get comfortable with letting them do the stuff they do when we bake. For example, I hate wasting specialty ingredients, like colored sugars or sprinkles. I would rather pour out too little, than too much. You can always add more, but you can't take away! (Okay, you can pour it back into the container, but this isn't always easy, and if you've introduced other ingredients to the sugar/ sprinkles, you have to throw out the excess when the cooking session is complete.) Unfortunately, my son took the brunt of my complaining about pouring too much sugar on sugar cookies we made a few times. He didn't have the skills to be as exact as I was, and I didn't have the understanding and patience to realize this. But, I have a solution to this problem that works for me, and now I don't suck the fun out of our cooking adventures anymore.
Here are my Seven Tips For Cooking With A Three Year Old
1. Wash everyone's hands just before starting to make a recipe. You can never be sure where your kids hands have been.
2. Use the biggest bowl you have in your house for mixing, even if you are only making a muffin mix that makes six muffins. Little kids' ability for stirring and mixing is not controlled and can result in ingredients going everywhere. A big bowl contains the ingredients better and deters much of the spillover.
3. If you allow your child to crack an egg, let them do it in a separate bowl from the one you are putting the rest of the ingredients in. I couldn't stand watching egg shell go everywhere and trying to dig it out of my batter. This way you can see if there is any egg shell in the bowl, fish it out, and then let your kid pour it into the big batter bowl. (Also, you may want to have a few extra eggs on hand if this is your child's first few attempts at egg cracking - we lost several down the sink due to overzealous egg cracking.)
4. Making cookies and other recipes from scratch is great, but a mix speeds things up and is still great fun.
5. Buy decorations and colored sugars in bulk. If you are anything like me, you won't want to waste these items when they come in the tiny little bottles. But when I buy them in large quantities, I don't worry about the waste. I bought green, pink, and red colored sugars from Gordon Food Service in a one pound size. I probably spent about the same amount on these that I would have on two of the smaller bottles.
6. If a recipe calls for taking a teaspoonful and rolling it into a ball, spoon it out yourself and give it to the child to roll. This only applies if you want the cookies to be relatively uniform for cooking time. If you don't mind various sizes, then let your kid go at it themselves! (I find this is only necessary when your child is young, as they get a little older they can be shown the right size and do it themselves.) Also, just because a recipe calls for the cookie shape to be round, doen't mean it has to be. Emma usually ends up with something the shape of a hot dog. We just put it on the cookie sheet and cook it that way - it always comes out yummy.
7. Always take lots of pictures. Either during the making, or of the final result, or both. I have some great ones of my kids mixing, sampling, and proudly displaying their tasty treats.
I hope these tips are handy for all of you contemplating cooking with your kids. It is completely worth it. They get so excited to crack an egg, measure and pour an ingredient into the bowl, mixing with a spoon or even the hand mixer, and carrying the cookie trays to the oven for you to put in. My kids get such a kick out of seeing and tasting their creations. They also love showing it off for their dad when he gets home from work. They always insist on him eating one right away. Get cooking and get ready for some fun!