Cooking together has always been a favorite activity in our family. My mother began to cook with me before I started school. One of my earliest school memories was when I was a first grader: our class was invited to be guests of the eighth grade cooking class and we were treated to hot cocoa and oatmeal cookies made by the “big kids.” At the end of the party, we were allowed to help the eighth graders clean up, and I remember volunteering to wash a very large floured baking sheet. As the class was ending, I was still at the sink laboring with the industrial-sized baking sheet that was as big as I was. As a reward for my efforts, I was given a gold star on my forehead. Even now, many years later, I still remember that day as one of the proudest of my life.
And maybe it was that day that started me on a life in which my best memories involve cooking for myself, my family, and my friends. The best of the best memories are the times I cooked with my own children who have now grown up and have given me five grandkids (aged from 20 months to 18 years), with whom I can continue what I started with my children over 40 years ago.
Cooking gives children a wonderful sense of accomplishment and they learn early that hard work can pay big (sweet) rewards. Cooking allows you to talk to kids on many levels: they learn about their family histories when you use recipes handed down in the family (the names of their great grandparents, the foods that derive from their family roots in countries far away), they learn to follow directions, they learn to count (depending on their ages, this can range from simple to more involved calculations), they learn cooperation, they learn the joy of work that can give pleasure not only to themselves but to others, they learn to try and to experience different foods and cooking methods, they learn lessons of self-sufficiency that will serve them all their lives, they learn they must clean up after themselves, they learn to follow directions and how to plan ahead (shopping and prep time).
All the while they’re learning all these things, they’re having fun and so are you.
Children learn to enjoy food from the first moments of their lives, and they can learn the joy of cooking even as toddlers. When you cook with toddlers, it’s important that you concentrate only on the task at hand, and it’s best to limit your cooking class to just one short one at a time. I’ve found it best if the recipes are simple, and have an enjoyable anticipated outcome.
These days, I’ve been cooking a lot with my three-year-old grandchild, Connor. I like to begin talking with Connor about what I want to cook with him. I describe how much he will like the dish, and when I get his interest, I give the recipe a fun name. I can keep his interest through the whole process if I start by writing the recipe down and discussing the ingredients and steps involved.
Then I plan a trip to the store for the ingredients. Again I involve the child. We look for the ingredients together, and we watch while the checker bags our stuff, and after we pay her (Connor learns that everything has a price), we go home to cook.
Washing hands is always the way we begin. It’s fun washing up with Connor, who generally resists washing up at other times — as he seriously throws himself into this activity when its for cooking. Next we gather our ingredients and utensils. And then we begin.
Fun and safety
I discuss the fact that we will need to warm up the oven while we’re making our food; explaining that the stove is “very hot” and that he must never touch the oven; and that he only cooks with me, or his Mommy or Daddy. I usually tell him about the times I would cook with Daddy when he was a little boy. This usually gets Connor’s interest. I measure out each of the ingredients, and Connor gets the fun and important mixing job.
If I’m using an electric blender or mixer, Connor gets to turn the appliance on and off (again discussing safety issues and the importance of not using these appliances by himself). If something has to be cooked on the stove-top, Connor stands close by watching the activity and depending on what’s cooking he get a chance to stir the pot (under very close supervision).
By this time, things in the kitchen are starting to smell really good, and that gives us a chance to discuss what we smell and to build excitement about the end result.
Connor gets the honor of greasing the cake or muffin pans, or he can roll out dough (with some help). Depending on what we’re cooking, he also gets the opportunity to help pour the batter into the pans if we’re making a cake, cupcakes, or muffins. If we’re making cookies, he can use the cookie cutters and later he can sprinkle the colored sugar over them.
Finally, we are ready to put the dish into the oven or onto the stove, set the timer, and anticipate the outcome. While waiting, Connor always helps with the clean up, and I admit this is his least favorite thing to do. But this is one of the lessons that are learned we must always clean up our own messes. It’s not all work. While we’re cleaning up, we get to look into the oven and watch the progress of the dish as it cooks. We discuss how the food will get to smell better and better, how it browns, and how the cake gets bigger as it cooks.
When the timer rings, with Connor closely watching, I take the food out of the oven and place it on the cooling rack. If the dish calls for icing, we use the cooling time to make the icing, and Connor helps put the icing on the cakes or cookies (and into his mouth).
At last, the dish is done and we get to eat it, sharing it of course with Mommy and Daddy, and anyone else who wants some. Since eating is a social activity, Connor basks in the glow of his accomplishment and enjoys the compliments and the conversation. In our family, after eating everyone helps clean up, so once again Connor is in on the action.
In general, anything that I choose to cook with Connor (or any other young child) has got to be simple and quick, recognizing that young children have finite attention spans. The time I spend cooking with Connor (or any of the kids) leaves me happy, tired, full, and contented; it leaves them feeling the same way, too, and proud of themselves as well.
The following are a few recipes that I have used successfully with Connor and with my younger grandchildren. I hope that you will try them for yourselves and add your own while you make memories for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren (or any kid who happens to be in your life).
Preparation Time: 20 minutes Baking Time: 60 minutes Makes 1 Loaf
You will need: a large fork and a wooden spoon, 2 bowls, oven gloves, loaf pan, cooking rack.
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup cooking oil
2 or 3 very ripe bananas
Pam or some other spray to grease the pan
* Note: You can add ½ cup chopped walnuts to this recipe BUT I DO NOT GIVE NUTS TO YOUNG CHILDREN
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and spray the sides and bottom of loaf pan with PAM and sprinkle with a little flour (shake out the excess flour)
2. Peel the bananas and mash the bananas with a fork into a small bowl
3. In the other bowl, mix the sugar, oil and egg with the wooden spoon until the mixture looks creamy and is a light yellow color
4. Blend in the bananas
5. Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Break up any lumps in the batter and stir until the batter is smooth and all the flour is mixed in.
To Bake: Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. (Test
for doneness: if the top of the loaf spring back after you touch
it, or if you stick a clean toothpick in and it comes out clean,
Cool on the cooling rack for about 20 minutes, then flip the bread out onto the rack and cool some more before slicing.
Creamy, Dreamy Oatmeal
(to wake a guy up)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes Cooking Time: 5 minutes Serves: 4
You will need measuring cups, small pot (prefer a non-stick one), a long handled wooden spoon, 4 bowls, 4 spoons.
2 cups of water
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Pinch of salt
(i.e. the good stuff) Milk or Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar
Crunchy Wheat Germ
1. Pour the water into the pot. Add the oats and salt.
2. Ask a grown-up to help bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.
3. Cook for 5 minutes or until the desired thickness, stirring occasionally.
THEN: Spoon into bowls and serve with the topping dejour.
“Butter and Nana Jama” Jam Sandwiches
You will need 2 tablespoons, a butter knife, and a cutting board
2 slices of bread (or more depending on who is eating)
1 tablespoon strawberry jam
1 tablespoon butter (soften to room temperature to spread
1. Spread jam evenly on one slice of bread (again depending on how many
are eating) and evenly butter the other slice.
2. Press the jammed and buttered sides of the slices together to make a
3. Place on cutting board and cut into halves or quarters.
A variation that my family enjoys: substitute softened cream cheese for the butter and make Cream Cheese And Nana Jama Jam Sandwiches.
Shamrock Lucky Glass Cookies
Preparation Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 8 to 10 minutes oven preheated
to 375 degrees
You will need:
One (1) package of pre-made sugar cookie dough (may
be store bought)
Green hard candy (Lifesavers etc.)
Zip Lock Bags and Small Kitchen Hammer (or any other
thing a child can use to “bam” the hard candy to little
Two (2) shamrock shaped cookie cutters (1 large and 1
Some tin foil
A cookie sheet
1. Roll out the cookie dough and cut out cookies using the large shamrock cookie cutter. Using the small cookie cutter, cut a hole in the center of each of the cookies
2. Place the cookies on a foil covered cookie sheet
3. Put hard candies into a plastic zip lock bag and crush them using the kitchen hammer, rolling pin or any thing else that will “bam” the candy (the kids LOVE this part!)
4. Use the crushed candy to fill the holes in the center of the cookies.
To Bake: Place the cookie sheet in the over (adult only) and bake the cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Watch these cookies because depending on your oven, they may require less time to brown.
Let these cookies cool completely and then peel the cookies off the foil and EAT!
Variations: Depending on the Holiday or Celebration (or just because), you can use other cookie cutters and colored candy—as for example, Christmas 1/4Tree Cookie cutters and red and green candy for Christmas.
Pruney Loony Muffins
Preparation Time: 30 minutes Baking Time: 15 to 20 minutes in regular sized muffin tin or 7 to 9 minutes in mini muffin tins.
Preheat Oven to 400 degrees Makes 12 regular sized muffins or 36 mini muffins. NOTE: Kids LOVE the mini muffin size.