“I need some help in here,” I call from the kitchen. My older girls are doing their homework. My 9-year-old son is pouring over the Dungeons and Dragons Master’s Guide.
“I’ll help you Mommy!” My three year old careens into the kitchen. She’s at an age where she loves to “help.” She dumps half a jar of oregano into the pasta sauce, makes “eggs” with her measuring teaspoon in the flour, and eats yogurt with great relish instead of spooning it into the pancake batter. Cooking with kids is often fun for kids but not always, eh hem, useful for grown-ups.
Now I’m in a quandary. I want to encourage her love of helping but dinner isn’t ready and I have to be at a meeting in half an hour. I am usually happy for her to stand on a chair beside me but there is no doubt that tonight Leone’s “helping” is going to slow me down.
That’s when I get my great idea. I still need to make a salad. It is a little too hard for a three year old to cut up a tomato but maybe Leone CAN actually help.
I quickly scrub clean a pair of blunt-tipped scissors and rinse off some scallions.
I help her wash her hands, hoist her onto a chair, put an empty salad bowl in front of her, and hand her the scissors.
Leone knows just what to do. This is as easy as cutting paper but way more fun.
My youngest daughter couldn’t be happier standing on her chair cutting the scallions into a bowl.
She would like to cut 15 more scallions into the bowl but I put the brakes on after three.
Then I hand her some cabbage leaves to cut. And finally some baby spinach (right you are, baby spinach does not need cutting but it keeps her busy while I use a vegetable peeler to shave a carrot into the salad and spice the beans and greens I have simmering on the stove.)
Culinary shears for kids!
A healthy dinner when you’re in a hurry:
Beans and greens:
Sauté a chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat. When the onion softens add some chopped garlic and cook a minute longer. Add several big handfuls of washed spinach (it cooks down) and pre-cooked cannellini beans. (I made ours a day ahead but canned beans work fine too.) Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon (zest and juice). Collard greens, Swiss chard, arugula and dandelion greens all work great in this recipe. If you can, buy the organic option that is freshest and least expensive.
Melt some butter in a sauce pan with a lid and brown a quarter of a cup of orzo in it per one cup of white rice. Add rice and water and a chunk of onion, one whole carrot, and a piece of broccoli. Cook 15 minutes and let rest for 5. We know brown rice is better for you put think of the Japanese who eat (usually white) rice three meals a day, have the longest longevity in the world and the lowest obesity rates. This is a very kid-friendly dish. Make brown rice on a night you have more time.
Salad: You wash the lettuce or spinach. Your three year old does the rest.
Dessert: Make a fruit plate with cut-up chunks of apple, orange, and grapefruit or whatever fruit you have on hand.
Here are some more ideas for healthy foods kids love, especially healthy snacks.
Other ways our littlest ones can help in the kitchen:
1) You put the plates around the table, they put a fork and cloth napkin at every person’s place.
2) They empty their clean dishes from the dishwasher directly into a special “stash,” a drawer they can open and close at their height.
3) They stand on a chair and sponge (aka move the dirt around) the counters with a damp rag.
4) They sweep the floor with a kid-sized broom (you can cut the handle off a broom to make it their size).
Do you cook with your kids? How old were they when they started helping?