It all started on the houseboat trip this summer, where I discovered that one of the little people thinks he wants to be a chef. Well, it's one of the ten things he wants to be when he grows up.
That started the "helper night", where each one of them got their own night to be Noni's "assistant" with their favorite houseboat meal.
'Cause you can't do one without the other two, of course!
Once back on land (and back from Peru!), we started a Cookin' with Noni night; where each grandbaby gets to come for their own private "cooking lesson", with a menu of their choosing. Logan got us off on the right foot with a stellar tomato soup ~
Then, of course we have to eat it! So at the conclusion of the evening, we sit down to a private dinner ~ where they get the full attention of both Papa & Noni. They are lovin' it, and so is Noni!
This was Sammy Jo's night to "cook". Now, since she's just barely 4, I had to come up with some projects that were more assembly than actual cooking. Trying to avoid hot stoves, hot ovens, hot grills, boiling hot water, and fire of all types.
Halloween created the perfect venue ~ and thank goodness for the internet, 'cause I just googled my heart out for ideas.
And "Banana Ghosts"
And "Spider-y Deviled Eggs"
And for dessert,
"Chocolate Witches Hats"
So here's a few tips for cooking with kids:
1) Prep everything, and I do mean everything ahead.
2) Chop what needs to be chopped, wash what needs to be washed, slice what needs to be sliced. This is what was ready and waiting for Sammy Jo when she walked in the door.
I cut the tips off the chocolate chips for the ghost "eyes". The bottom 0 becomes the mouth. They're in two separate containers to make it easy for her to know "Witch is Witch". Sorry, couldn't help myself.
Same with the olives. Whole pitted olives are cut in half for the spider body; I got sliced ones to cut in half for the legs. Turns out the legs were a little difficult for her, 'cause they're so tiny; so she did the body and I finished up with the legs.
The celery was already cut in anticipation of becoming little pumpkin stems. I had several oranges already peeled, but she enjoyed peeling the remainder "I do it myself"!
3) The younger the child, the more should be done ahead of time.
I already had the deviled egg mixture made ahead, and a plastic bag with the corner snipped off made for a perfect 4-year-old installation of the filling to the egg whites.
4) And the younger the child, the more variety you'll want ~ 'cause remember their attention span is shorter ~ so the projects should be, too.
5) Be flexible. Sometimes what I think they'll enjoy doing, they don't. Sometimes they want to learn how to use the can opener instead. So I always have a plan B, just in case something goes awry.
Today, for example, we had an unexpected problem with the "Banana Ghosts". Because the little chocolate "eyes" were so tiny, by the time she got them adequately squished into the banana, they were melted all over her little fingers. So she decided she would rather peel the banana pieces (which were already cut to size). Again the theme was, "I do it myself". Way more important that they find out what they like to do, as opposed to what I thought they were going to like to do.
6) Don't expect it look perfect. They're just kids, so the accomplishment is in the doing (and the eating); not in the presentation.
Although I thought she did a pretty darn good job!
7) Be ready to be surprised. While I thought we would just have dinner together at the kitchen counter, once we were done, she thought we should sit at the table. And she really enjoyed picking out the placemats, deciding where each of us should sit, and decorating the table with fall leaves and spider napkins. Note to self. Don't set the table ahead of time for this little one ~ that's part of the fun for her!
And, most importantly, remember: It's really not (so much) about the cooking. It's about spending time and enjoying each other's company. It's about them feeling special 'cause they get you all to themselves (and visa-versa). It's about them feeling all grown-up 'cause they get to pick something they want to make. It's about them getting acquainted with kitchen tools like a garlic press or a can opener or a citrus squeezer, or even the food processor (this is a good one, by the way ~ it's so safe! They can't get their little fingers caught in anything, and they feel so big when they can turn it on & off by themselves!). It's about having a new experience together.
And with kids, just like adults, it's about the wonderful conversations you will have together over a delicious dish of something home-made ~ with that most-important secret ingredient ~ a big ole' heaping scoop of love.
Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go. It's time to eat!