Let me just start with this confession: I’m a recovering control freak. I like to do things my way because my way is the right way. There, I said it. lol Like I mentioned, though, I’m recovering from my controlling ways. These days, I even let my little ones help me cook. Yes, I let them pour and measure and stir and I bite my tongue when messes are made and when a 10 minute job takes 30. I do my best not to rush them and I don’t make them feel bad for spilling, and let me tell ya…there are lots of spills! They just get so much pleasure in helping. And bonus…they’re more likely to eat food that they’ve helped prepare!
My three year old has been wanting to help in the kitchen lately so I let her help me make strawberry cream cheese bread (recipe below). While we were working and laughing together, I started to think of the benefits of cooking together. Besides the obvious bonding, and the future benefit of having my kids occasionally take over cooking dinner for the family (yassss!), there are real life learning opportunities. Here are three simple (and smart) ways your preschooler can help you cook.
This is the perfect time to introduce knife safety! Whether you buy a set of nylon knives like these or you hand your child a table knife, you can start to teach them the basics of knife safety. A three year old can understand that we always hold the knife by the handle because the blade is very sharp. Frequent reminders to keep their fingers out of harm’s way are important. Let them know that they can only use a knife when you give it to them and are able to supervise. (If you have an “I can do it myself” child, make sure you put knives away, out of their reach!) Let them practice by cutting soft foods such as bananas, avocado, butter, pancakes, or strawberries. Using a knife is a tangible way of allowing them to accomplish something. Talk about feeling like a big kid!
Measuring and Counting
Cooking together is an excellent way to implement basic math skills in a hands on, fun way. How many eggs do we need? How many bowls are we using? How may chocolate chips are you going to eat before you dump them in? haha Preschoolers love counting and you can have them count ingredients or utensils. They’re also able to grasp simple fractions. They can measure out one cup of flour or cut one half stick of butter. Measuring ingredients helps them understand that there are parts to a whole. As they get older you can teach your kids multiplication and division by doubling or halving the recipe.
Stirring and Pouring
Stirring and pouring are great for motor skills and strength. The more they practice pouring the steadier they get which means less spills. It’s hard for little hands to hold a full to the brim measuring cup of milk steady! It also helps with hand eye coordination. Three and four year olds can learn to stir gently without splashing ingredients outside the bowl. It’s easy to get carried away and stir fast and furious which can lead to extra messes. The more they cook, the better they get at self control…slowing down and doing things the correct way. Believe it or not, stirring can also teach perseverance. There have been times when my little ones have given a couple of stirs and then said, “Okay, I’m done.” Not so fast, sister. If you stop stirring now, our food will not be mixed properly and won’t cook properly. You have to finish what you start!
Cooking with your preschoolers is not only fun, it teaches them life skills, team work, and confidence! Here’s the recipe for the strawberry cream cheese bread that Keatyn and I made together. Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 oz cream cheese (softened)
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk (or half 'n half)
- 1 1/2 cups strawberries
- 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
- Use an electric mixer to cream butter, sugar, and cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend flour mixture with butter mixture just until blended. Add milk (half 'n half) and only stir just to blend. Do not overstir!
- Drain strawberries and pat dry. Carefully fold in strawberries and pecans. Dough mixture will be thick.
- Grease and flour a 9x5" loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let bread mellow for one day before serving.