Whenever my granddaughter Daisy comes to stay with me, her visit creates a series of highlights in my day from early morning cuddles to evening bath times.
These special moments now regularly happen in the kitchen. As she’s grown older and more independent, Daisy has discovered that, if she drags her little red chair over to the worktop, she can stand on the seat and involve herself in our cooking and baking sessions.
After having a quick chat about what we are doing, Daisy helps herself to any of the (child-safe) kitchen equipment laying on the worktop and starts to help us, just as she does when we are gardening.
There’s a certain joy about sharing cooking and baking activities with a young child. The shared task may only last for a short while, but even during the shortest time it’s an opportunity to talk about what you are making and what you are doing and to involve them in preparing the meal.
Fun, messy and tasty
In Daisy’s earlier ventures into cooking with me, she was ready and available to help make simple pastry bakes, biscuits or to finish off a cake with icing and decorations.
Early on, I focused on involving her in the process of making glacé icing, using water and icing sugar. You need to achieve a delicate balance here – the trick is not to make icing too runny for a child to use but not too stiff that it won’t drop off the spoon!
We’ve now progressed to butter icing, which together we spread onto the cakes. Daisy has continued to improve these skills at home with Mummy and Daddy and always she enjoys decorating cakes for special occasions.
Baking is a good physical activity for young children – it involves techniques that strengthen arm muscles and coordination, but is also fun and a little bit messy. Most of the time, the results are tasty too, so your little baker is left with a sense of achievement!
As she has grown stronger and more coordinated, Daisy has become involved in the full cake-making process, from helping with the weighing through to mixing and then placing the mixture into cake cases. We’ve noticed that Daisy appreciates the uncooked cake mixture almost as much as she does the final bake and she really enjoys finding a teaspoon and helping her Daddy to “clean out the mixing bowl”!
Staying safe while building skills
Throughout any cooking activity we’ve made sure that Daisy is aware of potential hazards and doesn’t go too close to the hot oven at any stage. We use all of the traditional baking equipment, making sure that Daisy learns how to use these tools safely.
The very sharp knives are always out of reach in the knife block but, with guidance, Daisy can now help to cut out the baking paper using scissors and she knows how to peel a banana and cut it up before mashing it up for a cake.
Baking together is now a well-established family activity for Daisy and each time we bake together is an opportunity for her to practise all these skills. Too frequently, parents, and even grandparents, can find they’re dashing about, preparing meals in a hurry; the idea of involving young children in helping to make a meal does require more adult planning and preparation. You can even start before you enter the kitchen by involving them in shopping for the ingredients.
Curious about carrots
Daisy’s regular offers to assist us in preparing meals usually lead to her helping to prepare the vegetables. Shelling peas is a favourite seasonal job, while chopping courgettes doesn’t require a particularly sharp knife.
Recently, Daisy has mastered the use of a potato peeler, and it was while Daisy was helping to peel some carrots that she decided to taste the raw carrot. She enjoyed it so much that carrot sticks have been added to her list of healthy snack options, alongside cherry tomatoes and cucumber segments!
The challenge of getting children to try new foods will be a familiar frustration for many parents and grandparents, so preparing meals together can create opportunities to subtly introduce something new.
Handling and preparing ingredients increases both confidence and familiarity; as Daisy’s experience with raw carrot shows, children tend to feel more adventurous when they’re given a bit more autonomy around their food.
A curiosity in handling, and interest in, food is a positive trait to encourage in a young child. It gives them the confidence to experiment, to taste and try different foods. So when, during Daisy’s first day at nursery school, her mid-morning snack consisted of ‘milk and half a pear’, she was ready to try a pear for her snack, despite never eating one on her own before!
Handling foods can also spark conversations that support a balanced diet in the early years. We can’t expect preschool children to grasp the fundamentals of nutrition but we can give them some pointers about which foods are healthy enough to eat anytime and which they should know are occasional treats.
Seasonal soups in sequence
Our meals change to match the seasons and, as autumn sets in, Daisy’s parents are making more homemade vegetable soups. Daisy is interested in handling the different vegetables for the soup, investigating the variety of ingredients and then helping with some of the preparation.
Now that Daisy has helped make soup several times she is becoming familiar with these processes. Recently, Daddy and Daisy prepared ‘white soup’, which happens to be Daisy’s favourite.
Afterwards, they talked about what they had done together to make the soup – activities like this can be a great opportunity for communication and language development, as children start to think in advance about how they’ll accomplish a task, and even talk through how stages happen in sequence.
Daddy had prepared a set of paper squares, cut from thin cardboard, each about 10cm square. With Daisy’s help, Daddy drew some simple pictures for each of the stages in the soup making, right through to serving the meal in a soup bowl and a spoon. This set of cards created the sequence for completing the task.
The next time that Daddy and Daisy make some soup, before they start, Daddy will bring out the cards and chat with Daisy to see if she can remember what they did first and then to see if she can remember the stages of the soup-making process, from preparing the vegetables to taking a spoon and enjoying the soup.
I have little doubt Daisy will be able to explain the process to Daddy, given her growing confidence in the kitchen – not bad for someone who’s been eating solid food for less than four years!
Granny Smith says…
- Sequence cards can be used and re-used for any cooking/baking activity – they are a young child’s recipe cards! If you find drawing them yourself a challenge, there are plenty of images available on the internet or using cooking magazines. If you’re feeling adventurous could even take a set of digital photographs for the different stages and then re-use these, either in print or on your device.
- If you’re making soup in particular, remember to adjust the seasoning and manage the amount of salt in the soup to suit a young palate – you can always season your own serving separately!