Your little ones simply adore copying what you do, and when your working in the kitchen, nothing will make them happier than to play with the same kitchen implements that you use - wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks and bowls. Of course, they don't need to mess up your lovely kitchen utensils, although nylon and wooden ones would be perfectly safe for them, you can also buy whole sets of kitchen utensils from any toy store.
Pretend kitchen play is a valuable pastime for all kids. At a physical level they are learning about materials and honing their fine motor skills as they drop ingredients into bowls and stir them. They are also growing their understanding of how food is prepared, learning what is involved and about where their meals come from.
As they grow older you can move from pretend utensils to real ones, and from play food to real 'dried foods' (such as pasta, dried fruit, cereal etc.) and on to genuine cooking. Next time you are in a supermarket, take a look in the home baking aisle and you will find all manner of easy foods that you can whip up with the kids.
Here are some simply foods that you can buy from the supermarket and which even the youngest children can 'cook':-
- 'Shake and bake' fairy cakes - just add milk, put into cake cases and bake
- Home bake scone mix - just add water (and raisins if you like), mix, roll, cut and back
- Home made muffin mix - just add a little oil, water and an egg, put into cases and bake
- Fresh croissant or pain au chocolate - sometimes difficult to find in the supermarket (try the chiller cabinets where ready made pastry is), fresh dough comes in a tube; open, shape the pastries onto a baking tray and bake
- Pizza - buy a fresh base and spread with your favourite toppings; start with a plain dough and add passata and cheese, or buy a Margherita and add your own flavours. Cook as per instructions
All these products can be prepared in around 5 minutes and baked in around 20, and can form a part of the children's real meals. Try to cook with your children at least once a week and they will have a whale of a time!
This is a great activity to use up some of the Christmas packaging you might have and also have a go at making some cardboard cookies to play with.
Take some brown corrugated card packaging and cut out lots of varied cookie shapes. Talk about the shapes you are cutting: are they round cookies, square cookies or heart shaped. Then, cut some white paper into the same shapes to make the cookies toppings. Think of some fun things to put on top. Draw chocolate sprinkles, raisins, cherries, grapes, and so on, onto each of the pieces of paper. Make sure you do a few of each. Using some tape, stick the toppings on the cookies.
Ask your child:
- What are the colours of the toppings?
- Sort them into groups that are the same
- Count each group and then count all the cookies
- Sort them into groups of the same shape
- Ask for 4 cookies with different toppings
- Look at three cookies together with different toppings and then hide one. Try to guess which one is missing
- Ask who would like to eat which cookies. i.e. Granny would like the lemon one, Mum would like the chocolate one
- Lay out the cookies on the floor to make a big shape
The idea of cooking with children might fill you with horror, what with the mess, the organisation, the dangers and the unappetising results, but, with a little planning, careful thought and a bit of patience, you can all have a fulfilling and fun time in the kitchen.
Cooking actually covers various areas of the EYFS development programme and so it is a great focus activity.
- Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy - count, weigh and measure ingredients together.
- Physical Development - health and bodily awareness when talking about healthy foods and using new and exotic tools to cook with.
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development - great sense of achievement when it's finished; personal hygiene when washing hands and preparing and learning about safety in a kitchen.
While cooking: Show your children the recipe and get all the ingredients ready in advance. Guide and direct the children through the cooking and keep them engaged so they don't get distracted and do their own thing. Use tools and bowls that are the appropriate size so they feel in control and able to do the task. Allow them to do as much as you can themselves without endangering them. Talk about the dangers and hot areas to avoid (oven, hob etc). Encourage them to help clear up and taste the food afterwards.
Why should they cook?
- Introduce new foods and ways of eating.
- Explain how foods and meals are made.
- They learn numbers, counting and measuring.
- They have to listen to instructions and carry the instructions out.
- They have to understand sequencing - you have to break the egg before you whisk it!
- They can make some great creations!
- It's fun!
Maths and counting and numbers may not be your preferred subject and it may bring back memories of dreading the maths lessons as school and struggling over homework, but it doesn't have to be like that! While hard sums are a long way down the line for our children, it's a great idea to get them in the swing of counting and using numbers, even when they are small, so they are confident when they get older. It will serve as vital building bock for future maths.
Here are a few simple way of incorporating numbers, counting and sums into your toddler's life. You'll see how easy it is!
- Count together at every opportunity: Count when drying toes and fingers, when marching up stairs, when passing trees, when stepping along the road to nursery, when passing cars in the street. Make it something you do at least once on every outing! It needn't be counting to 100; just to 10, and then 20, is a great start.
- Sort things: Arrange things in order and sort into groups. Mix coloured bricks or trains and cars and ask them to sort them into piles. All yellow bricks here and all red bricks there! Sort the washing together, sort the food after shopping: fruit here and vegetables here.
- Cooking: Make a cake together and mix in spoonfuls of raisins or cherries, measure and mix together to make a delicious cake. Or simply cut vegetables and count a few for each person at dinner.
- Shapes: Go round the house naming shapes, or when out for a walk spot things that are a particular shape: rectangle letter box, round, sign, square garage.
- Compare Size: Find the big book and the small book. Ask which is widest, which is longest? Sort books or other objects into size order.
- Patterns: Teach patterns and talk about patterns. Sort coloured blocks and make patterns with them or look at patterns on clothing or in books.
- Bath time: Even in the bath measure and pour water into little jugs. Talk about full and empty.
Making learning fun is the fundamental ideal of ToucanLearn, it's fun and learning for you and your little ones!
Soups make for a nutritional and filling meal for adults and children and a good home made soup is easy and quick to make. You can use the same basic steps to make almost any soup, here are those steps:-
- Dice your main ingredients
- Precook the ingredients to soften them by frying in butter or oil, or maybe roasting in the oven
- Add a stock or other liquid base, bring it to a boil and simmer for up to 10 minutes
- Serve as is or blend in a food processor
Your stock might be a vegetable or chicken based stock or bouillon, or you can use other liquids such as coconut milk, regular milk, tomato juice, a tinned soup or even water. What about the main ingredients? How about:-
- Pumpkin Soup: fry up onion and diced pumpkin, add coconut milk, boil and blend
- Bean Soup: fry up some onion and diced bacon, add stock and tin of whatever beans you like (drained first), boil and serve
- Vegetable Soup: fry up any left over vegetables and add stock, or simply boil fresh ones in a stock, blend and serve
- Fish Chowder: Dice and cook bacon; dice and fry leek, potato, mushrooms and sweetcorn until softened; add a pint of milk and bring to a boil
- Carrot and Apple Soup: fry onion and carrot until softened, add diced apple and stock, bring to a boil then blend
Use your imagination and use flavours that you know your children like. Here are some extra tips to guide you:-
- Onion adds depth to almost any dish, but you can also use leek which is closely related
- Add extra flavour with a bit of garlic and/or some fresh herbs or even spices such as paprika, cinnamon or star anise
- Warm winter soups are great at this time of year, but you can serve up summer flavours as cold soups in the summer, try melon and mint or cold leek and potato (vichyssoise)
- Try making fruit soups as an interesting desert
- Check the salt and sugar levels for stocks or tinned soups that you use as a base, look for stocks with a lower salt content
- Make soup ahead and simply reheat it, most soups can even be frozen
- Soups with low salt and sugar content are terrific for babies; once blended, freeze into ice cube trays and defrost just two or three at a time
- Serve with panache - keep fresh herbs on hand to garnish with and add a little extra freshness to
Soups really are easy to make and offer a really versatile meal, they are also a really healthy option for the whole family!
There are times when you need to be getting on with preparing the next meal and you have your little ones snapping around your ankles getting ever so slightly in the way - if you can sit them down at a table or on the floor and keep them occupied, then you'll find that you can get on with your work that much more easily! Here's a great idea to help occupy your toddlers in the kitchen...
Take a mixing bowl and add a small handful of three or four different types and shapes of dried pasta - bows, tubes, spirals, twists and so on. Mix them all up. Give your little one a muffin tray and have them sort the pasta back into the right shapes, filling the cups in the muffin tray with each of the different types of pasta. Hopefully this will keep them occupied for some time and they will enjoy this as much as doing a puzzle.
For older children you can make the challenge a little harder by using rice, lentils and other smaller dried foods amongst the pasta.
This is a great activity to let your children loose on every time you want to cook in the kitchen and they want to 'cook' too! This activity incorporates shape matching and encourages their fine motor skills as they have to pick up small pieces of pasta and place them in the right place.
You are more likely to contract food poisoning in your own home than from a restaurant, that's slightly surprising, but it's true because there are so many ways that bacteria can contaminate food that we are about to eat. It's vital to store food properly. Here are some pointers and some reasons why!
- Raw meat should be stored separately to food that's ready to eat (cheese, salad, fruit). You don't need a separate fridge, but you do need to keep them apart. Keep raw met at the bottom of the fridge.
- Make sure all foods are covered.
- If you are defrosting raw food, make sure none of the water or defrosted liquid gets onto any of the other foods. Why? Because there are bacteria on raw foods that could contaminate foods you are about to eat.
- Always use a clean copping board and knife when cutting raw food and cooked food. Why? Bacteria can even spread from the knife or chopping board onto other foods.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables before you eat them. Why? Because they may have harmful bacteria on them and if you don't wash them you'll eat them too!
What's the difference between 'sell by', 'use by' and 'best before' dates?
Sell by - this is the date by which the shop need to sell the goods. There may well be a few days after this date that the food will be fine to eat.
Use by - this is the date by which the food must have been consumed - or throw it away! If you were a restaurant and you served food after the "use by" date it would be against the law.
Best before - this is all about quality. The food would be fine to eat after the sell by date, but it will be past its best.
Other things to remember:
- Keep pets away from food preparation areas.
- Keep equipment in good condition and replace splitting wooden spoons, cracked chopping boards etc.
- Steralise surfaces and equipment periodically.
- Keep you kitchen clean and sweep the floor often to prevent pests.
- Keep raw food covered in the fridge and when getting ready to cook.
Food hygiene is especially important if you have children in your home, both to practice and to teach them about so that they grow up understanding how to prepare food safely.
Kids love to play make-believe and it forms an important part of childhood development. The last thing you want when you are preparing their real meals is for the children to be snapping at your heels, getting in your way and being dangerously close to hot food and other hazards. Why not let them make their own food? ...well, pretend to at least! Give them a few small containers (such as yogurt pots or a muffin tin), a couple of wooden kitchen utensils, and a few dried foods such as pasta, beans, and lentils. They will entertain themselves 'cooking', sorting the foods, putting them in and out of pots and so on, leaving you clear to prepare their proper dinner!