Quick Recipes and Easy

Chaos in the Kitchen or Cooking with a Toddler

A while back I wrote an article about the benefits and joys of cooking with a toddler (any kid between the ages of 2 and 5). There are many excellent and fun reasons for cooking with a toddler. In retrospect, but, and on rereading that article, I believe I would be remiss if I did not discuss the chaos that goes along with it. I will redress that omission here.

Anyone who attempts to cook with a young child should know what they’re getting into before they start so that they will have no one to blame if, in the process, they lose their minds.

In the article, I suggested that when you start cooking with a toddler you take the small one to the store while you shop for the ingredients you’ll need for the recipe you’re making. I would advise, if the child is small enough, to sit him in the cart the store provides for that purpose. This simple step will allow you to get out of the store within 30 minutes; failure to do this will keep you frantically running up and down the aisles looking for the child for a excellent hour and a half (excluding your actual shopping time–this is especially right if you shop in one of those SUPER, super food markets or in a market that has exits leading into a mall).

I also suggest, if the kid is three years of age or older, that you take sufficient money to buy your way out of the place. Remember, modern super markets also masquerade as toy stores. They hire marketing experts who know exactly what the kid wants and where to place it so that he will see it, want it, and demand it. Now, you are free to say “no” to the child, but it is my experience that you will break down and buy at least one toy. Most adults have no defense against a wheedling kid or against one who is threatening to make a scene guaranteed to make you look like a Grinch. Incidentally, it is also advisable to have extra cash to pay for the havoc the kid who is too huge to sit in the cart may incur while you are concentrating on the task at hand — getting your stuff and getting out as quick as possible.

Once back at home, and before you start cooking, it would be advisable, if you are a drinking person, to pour yourself a glass of wine (or whatever it is you use to cool your nerves) when embarking on this perilous (albeit enjoyable) activity. Getting your supplies together, with the help of a toddler, takes nerves of steel. Their small hands are everywhere and all at one time. While you’re reaching for the pans, he’s reaching for the pots; while you’re reaching for the proper utensils, he’s empting your knife and fork drawer; while your reaching for the flour, he’s dropped the box of salt and finally when your reaching for the Tums, he’s reaching for the bag of candy he spied on the third shelf of the cabinet and is busily climbing on chairs and ladders to get to it. You get the picture.

Finally, with the supplies and ingredients on hand and your nerves and stomach settled (for a while), you start to measure the ingredients while you clarify to the child exactly what you’re doing and why and assure him that he will get the chance to add the ingredients to the bowl and to do the necessary mixing and stirring. This is excellent for the child and an opportunity to “bond” with him. You can instruct him in the science of measurements (keeping it age appropriate), you can tell him about the recipe and the history of it (if the recipe is one that has been in the family) and you can tell him to stop putting the salt into the sugar bowl and to stop climbing up and down off the chair he’s sitting on and while he’s at it, to stay off the table.

I often choose to bake a cake with the toddlers available to me, since they are guaranteed to like it. Of course in the chaos of the situation you’ve probably forgotten to preheat the oven; but never mind the details, just get the pans into the oven and hope for the best. In this situation, time is on your side because the kid does not know what to expect and just getting the cake cooked so that he can lick the batter out of the bowl will keep him deliriously pleased and give you the chance for another glass of wine before you prepare to make the icing.

Now any kid worth his salt knows that the really excellent fun is in mixing the icing, slathering it on the cake and himself at the same time. And so, it starts again: get the ingredients together, get the utensils together and if you forgot what ensues at this point, go back and review the fifth paragraph.

The upshot of preparing the icing is that there will be a small icing on the lop-sided cake (remember you place it into a cold oven and the kid’s been bouncing around the kitchen like a ball for the 45 minutes it’s been in the oven); there will be icing all over the kitchen (ceiling, walls and floors—but what the heck, you’ve been “bonding” with the child and it’s been fun); and the major part of the icing in ON the kid which means that you will need to bathe him completely and therefore the icing will be all over your bathroom as well. Oh, did I mention that you’re also covered in icing as well, so plot on your own bath/shower too.

I do insist that the child help with the clean up, and of course, this is a real battle because now that the fun is over, he has absolutely no interest in helping you to clean up. But insist anyway. It’s part of the lesson and the joy of cooking and it’s also a lesson for him to take into his life: we HAVE to clean up our own messes!

At this point, another glass of wine helps because there will be chaos and noise and you can count on at least one broken dish as he helps to clear the table, and dry the dishes with you. Hang on, the end is near.

You are finished, the cake is done and iced, you and the small one are cleaned up, as is the kitchen (or at least it’s in some semblance of order). You can end the clean up later when he’s sleeping the sleep of the innocent and looking like an angel.

But before that, the family has a chance to praise his effort and he has the chance to savor his success and at this point, you will know it’s all been worth it. Soon you will be able to take an aspirin for your headache, pour another glass of wine and delight in the silent (see the previous paragraph).

Maureen R. Sinclair is an American (via N.Y.C. and Lexington, KY). who currently resides in Nova Scotia, Canada. Educated as a Registered Nurse, she holds an M.S. in Psychology. Ms. Sinclair has traveled widely and has many interests. She is an accomplished artist and writer currently writing for onlinecooking.net. She may we reached at mailto:mrs3371@hotmail.com mrs3371@hotmail.com or mailto:msinclair@onlinecooking.net msinclair@onlinecooking.net.

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