Patience

Oh, a little tiny word with such power. The absence of patience changes the experience, as does the presence of it. Bringing it into the kitchen is the fundamental difference between a smiley kitchen and a grumpy kitchen in my house.

The kids know our buttons, and they know how to find them in a heart beat. Instead of focusing on the buttons getting pushed (or not), I suggest you focus on what you can control…you. Here’s my quick list of what we, as the adult helpers in the kitchen can do to set the right stage.

Burnt Bagel

The KnifeForkSpoon girls are really into being tricksters. They love playing tricks on the rest of the family, and each other. It’s supremely funny. Until it backfires, that is. I find it supremely funny when it backfires. Not because I am a mean mom, but because it happens so infrequently and has such an amazing reaction that I cannot help but giggle.

The latest trick was to turn the toaster up to 9. 9, on our toaster, is BURN! I have no idea when it happened, but sometime between breakfast and afternoon snack time the plot was laid. And then snack time came. Down went the bagel. Up came the bagel. Oh, she was mad! Never before has a trick backfired. She hollered at the top of her lungs.

The story has a happy ending. The bagel got eaten, the kid had a new perspective on playing tricks, and the family had a great giggle. These KnifeForkSpoon girls are great!

Cutting Progression

Want to super duper kitchen helper? Give them a cutting tool of some sort and watch them go to town! Wait, what?? A cutting tool for my kiddo? Yes! There is a safe way to introduce cutting for any age child. Not only that, they will love it and you’ll have so much help, maybe even more than you were hoping for!

There are 4 basic tools to get you on your way with the cutting progression. They are a crinkle cutter, a nylon knife, a not-so-sharp knife, and the sharp kitchen knife.

The four tools used in the cutting progression sequence. Starting with a crinkle cutter (top), a nylon knife, a not-so-sharp knife, and a sharp knife (bottom)

It truly doesn’t matter how old your child is, hand them a crinkle cutter and see what they can do. A crinkle cutter is a great place to start, they will be able to get a feel of how cutting works. Maybe more importantly, you’ll be able to see how they work with cutting in the kitchen. You’ll get comfortable with them cutting – this is the most important step toward their cutting success!

A crinkle cutter is nice and chunky, allowing them to get a good grip and be able to push down easily with a lot of force. It’s great for soft foods (cucumbers, melon, banana, etc) and it works well with hard foods, too (apples, carrots, cheese).

Once you feel like they have a good understanding of cutting and are proficient with the crinkle cutter, have them step up to the nylon knife. There are a variety of different “soft” knives out there, we prefer the reusable camping knife or the lettuce knife. It’s okay to not have kids spend a lot of time with these tools. Because they aren’t sharp they can cause frustration. Because that is never our intention, be sure you practice first with the tool before sending kids on their merry way. My kids skipped this tool and went right to the not-so-sharp kitchen knives.

Next step, not-so-sharp knives. These are different than dull knives. Dull knives can hurt. What I am talking about here are knives with a metal blade but it’s not highly polished and sharpened. It is sturdy and cuts well, but does take some extra force. This is when kids can really fine tune their cutting techniques and learn good cutting habits. They will be absolutely thrilled to “graduate” to a metal knife.

The final step is the actual kitchen knife. There is no need to hurry to this step. There is a need for your kids to tell you and show you they are ready for a tool like this. I watched my kids for years to gauge their knife skills. One day I realized it had all clicked with my littlest, and with no further thought, she graduated to the kitchen knife! She was ecstatic.

A little note, age has NOTHING to do with knife usage. If you child is very young and has incredible body control and is emotionally and mentally ready for a knife, do it. If you have a teenager who can’t remember to keep their fingers out of the way and safety is a major concern keep them on a crinkle cutter or nylon knife. It’s about when the time is right, not about the rush.

Why wash hands?

I always tell my kids to wash their hands…but why? We tell the kids it is important to have clean hands, but it’s hard for them to understand. With the current covid-19 situation, we’ve heard more and more about the importance of hand washing.

One of my friends had the brilliant idea to make cross contamination in the kitchen visual. So we did!! A little disclaimer; in a previous life I was a nuclear engineer. Yup, super geek here. My coworkers and I were EXPERTS (to the fullest definition of the word) at keeping cross contamination to a non-existent level. That is part of why this little experiment lit my fancy, it put me in a world I was completely comfortable in and know a ton about.

I asked the girls to make a simple sesame chicken marinade. I took care of slicing the chicken (and washing my hands afterward!) and asked them to make the marinade for me. To keep it easy, I laid out the measuring spoons they would need and told them how much of each. The twist…..they dipped their hands in paint before they started to get a visual of how gunk from their hands get passed on to everything!

They had a lot of fun measuring out all of the ingredients and mixing – as I suspected they would. They are my little helpers afterall!

I also had some hunches going in. I thought that there would be paint all over their clothes and faces. I also thought I would escape unscathed. I was wrong on both accounts! They tried to open some of the lids but needed help. That’s when I got “germy”. They did an excellent job of keeping themselves clean. Other than a sleeve that got dipped and a small splatter, their faces and clothes looked good.

Here is what the table looked like after we were done. Much to my surprise there was no paint in the marinade (or they whisked it away!), but the mixing bowl did have paint on it.

What didn’t occur to me until we were making the video was that some of those little germs can live for a long time on a surface. This means you might grab the salt shaker later and you have inadvertently cross contaminated yourself again.

I think it’s safe to say that today I helped my kids understand a little bit better the importance of washing gunk off of your hands, even if you can’t see it.

Our entire live video is here.

The 7 Utensils

I forced myself to whittle down my list of kid utensils to my top 7. It was a challenge, but I did it!

In no particular order they are ………..drum roll……………….

crinkle cutter

vegetable peeler

cutting board

spray bottle

dust pan and brush

whisk

silicon spatula

I had my kids to an “expert panel” to discuss each one. Let’s just say that it didn’t go quite as planned. Something about toots and attitudes! For some giggles, it’s below. My thought are below.

**(this post contains affiliate links that benefit me if you order)**

crinkle cutter – the best tool to introduce the concept of cutting with kids. It is safe to use, easy for little hands to hold and gives a great sense of accomplishment when they realize they did all of the chopping themselves.

vegetable peeler – i love the “old rusty” one. it’s small, it simple and it gets the job done. The kids HATE it. They prefer the chunky, easy to handle one. It is clear which side does the cutting, they can hold on to it with no issues.

cutting board – it’s more than just a cutting board, it’s also a safe work surface for them. we get cutting boards out of the pantry multiple times a day. It’s always the first things the kids put down when they are getting their work space ready for cooking

spray bottle – little people love to make a mess! the good news is that they love to clean just as much. A spray bottle with a mild cleaner makes the back end of the cooking job so much smoother. I’ve found that my kids’s attention span to cleaning is far longer than I expected. My disclaimer – it doesn’t seem to transfer to room cleaning!

dust pan and brush – this is part of the magical cleaning business, especially if the dust pan and brush are kids sized! they might even start sweeping on their own – it has actually happened in my house!

whisk – simple is best here. I have some fancy ones and they drive the kids crazy. All they need is a simple way to “swirly whirly” the food around. Like the vegetable peeler, a thick handle is much easier for them to hold than something thin.

silicon spatula – you can get these in so many different sizes and shapes. I recommend a variety pack, so they can experiment with how each works and learn what they prefer. These can be used to mix, scrape, flip, the list goes on.

Happy Cooking!!

Sweet Treat Friday

Oh yes, it starts today – sweet treat Friday!

Every Friday I will have a treat posted! Healthy? Maybe, maybe not. Likely not! We don’t do a lot of treats in our house, so this is really a nice surprise for the kids. They have been asking all week what the treat today is!

There were triple thrilled when I shared that they would each be making a batch of brownies for our live video! Whoa, 3 batches of brownies. I might have lost my mind…that’s a lot of brownies!

Here is the recipe we followed.

For an extra indulgence, scroll down to see the cheesecake topping you can put on top!

The live video wasn’t nearly as smooth as anyone hoped! I’ve got some editing to do and I’ll get it up here 🙂

All Hands on Deck

Check it out….little kids are entirely capable of peeling lots of different kinds of food. If they are capable of holding a peeler they can peel! It’s quite rewarding to see them smile when they realize how easy it is for them do to the work themselves.

Everything from eggs, to oranges, to kiwi, to apples. The list goes on and on. All the kids need is a great quality peeler and they can get busy! Here we have a video of the KnifeForkSpoon kids showing you how easy it is for kids to make their own snack. Keep in mind, if you aren’t comfortable with kids handling a knife, feel free to do that on your own.

Here’s a quick summary of all things peeling. Ask your kids what they want to peel, it could very well open up their mind to new snack and food ideas they hadn’t considered.

If a kids starts to get frustrated peeling, change their goal. Peeling is one of those tasks that can get really hard, really fast. Stepping in early is important. Help them take a deep breath, offer to help, and move on to the next object. If they want to, they can always come back and try again later.

Meal Planning with Big Kids

It seems pretty straight forward and easy. Give them some recipes to pick from, some input on what the fridge and pantry hold, and voila – dinner is planned!

As you can see, this isn’t Calvin’s favorite task. The reason why I include him in meal planning is two fold. 1) I would like him to have some appreciation of the planning, time, and skills needed to do it successfully and 2) to give him some idea about dinner plans (and maybe he will eat better!). The video of our conversation is below.

Here is the method I use. Feel free to print or share this image!

Apples for Snack!

Apples are a major snack time hit in this house. We go through bags and bags of apples each week. I am so grateful that my children have a natural desire to munch on healthy options!

Our 3 favorite ways to eat apples are dried, as an apple pizza, and chunked up!

Dried apples teach the kids organization. An adult slices them thinly (with a knife or mandolin) and the kids place them on the food dryer racks. Their little hands get some good practice with fine motor skills and they can create patterns as they lay down the fruit.

Apple pizza is a way for a kid to truly express themselves. I give my kids a few small bowls full of various toppings – raisins, popcorn, cheerios, chocolate chips, graham cracker crumbs, you name it – and they take over the decorating job! They take a thinly sliced apple (just like used for drying apples) and cover it with something gooey – honey, cream cheese, peanut butter, almond butter – and then sprinkle their toppings on it. A delightfully gooey mess is all theirs!

A chunked up apple is a great way to give kids a sense of accomplishment. All they will need is a crinkle cutter, a cutting board, and an apple. I allow my kids to cut the apple however they want. Sometimes they will ask for some help to get pieces of the core out, but generally they’ll be happy with their results and head straight to dipping them in peanut butter or honey!

This post contains affiliate links that will pay me a small sum if you place an order through my link.

The Claw!

It’s more than just a funny scene from a movie of the 90;s! It is actually the most important thing you can teach your kids when it comes to knife safety. It’s all about the position of your fingers – it ensures you cannot cut the tips of them off. Instead, the knife rubs across the flat part of the finger.

If you have a child that you feel is ready to use, or is using, a knife, teach them to place their fingers like a claw. This is a pretty decent version what the claw should look like. In this photo, the pointer finger should be more vertical, like the other two fingers are. All in all, my boy did a good job slicing while i was hovering with a camera!

I will develop a full knife safety mini-course coming up soon. Stay tuned!

Pack it Up!

It will longer than normal, it might not happen the way you plan, and it may make your heart race to see your littles handle the fragile goods…but they will be SO PROUD of their hard work.

When you leave the grocery store, open the trunk and let them pack all the groceries in. I never expected the creativity and team work from my two youngest. They divvied up roles with no problem, one climbed in the trunk and the other was the “hander”.

It was so much fun to watch and they talked about it the whole way home. So simple, so impactful, so much fun for them!

Put them to work!

Here is a super simple recipe that the kids can make and cook with very little help from an adult. There is a lot of fun in prepping the ingredients, also.

They can help by portioning out the vegetables, slicing the butter into a little square, measuring out the salt and pepper.

Not to mention, bacon makes everything better and helps veggies to go down the hatch!

Grow!

We talk about how important it is for us to have an ergonomic work space. The same goes for our kids when they are learning in the kitchen. It’s super important that are tall enough to reach the counter and use the tools safely. Since we can’t stretch them to be taller (my dad used to always tell me he would stretch me to get taller!), we have to give them a step stool or chair that they can use to get to the right height.

There are a lot of step stools out there. We use the super simple folding one that fits nicely by the fridge. Our kitchen is teeny tiny, so small space storage is a must for us. There are also ones that convert from step stool to high chair. Pick what is best for your family and you kiddo.

The last thing we want is a kiddo reaching for something on the counter and grabbing something they didn’t expect!

This post contains affiliate links that will pay me a small amount if you make a purchase. Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Three Letter Word

FUN. Other than safety, I cannot think of a more important word, or concept, when working with kids in the kitchen.

This word is the gateway to so much. It enables everyone to relax and enjoy what is happening in the most frequented room of the house. It engages a child’s mind, turning it into elastic, stretching to soak up the new info being presented. It creates an atmosphere of joy; a space where love can happen.

Do keep in mind that fun for our little helpers may be vastly different than what we deem as fun. They might push back on something you thought would be fun. That’s okay, ask how they would like to change it. Their insight is always keen and because they have not yet accepted the filters society places on them, they are likely to give you an honest answer. Engage them in discussion to further understand their perspective, it’s always a fun rabbit hole to run down.

Things my children find fun…

…washing dishes.

…organizing the utensil drawer.

…measuring ingredients before cooking.

…spraying down and cleaning counters and kitchen table.

…setting the kitchen table (their own way, of course!).

…organizing the food on their plate into a “picture”.

…putting groceries in the pantry.

Sweet Tooth

I love cookies. I love everything about them. Making them, eating the dough, watching them in the oven, eating them, freezing dough for a treat. They are satisfying on so many levels.

My children agree whole heatedly with my thoughts on cookies. We love pulling out the mixer and whipping up a double batch; half for baking now, half for freezing.

Kids can help with everything in this recipe except for taking the baking sheets out of the oven. In our house, we prepare all the ingredients and place them on the counter before pulling the mixer out. Once the mixer is out, we take turns adding the ingredients and operating the mixer. One safety note here – kids like to look into the mixer to see what is happening. I always pull my girls’ hair back so it can’t get tangled in the beater and I employ the strict “hands-off” rule for the speed switch.

Who operates the mixer is always a great question. For younger kids, always the adult. My 6 year olds have the option to if they have the listening ears and attitude to match. If there is sass or attitude, I share my perspective and explain that for safety I’ll be the one operating the controls. That alone is usually enough to shape them up.

A cookie baller is a fun tool for the kids to use, althogh their hands may tire easily. If you don’t have a cookie baller, two spoons do the trick and the kids can use clean hands to roll the cookies into balls before baking.

P.S – these cookies freeze well before or after baking!

Roll It Up!

As adults, I find that I prefer to get my food and get on with my day. Children are the exact opposite. They let the creative juices flow and turn food into art. It’s a beautiful process and a great reminder for us adult types to slow down and enjoy the world. Kids are so wise, we have so much we can learn from them.

This is a snack that will let them be creative and artistic. It’s quite simple as long as you lay all the options out at the beginning. Seek input from the little hands to know what they want in their pinwheel. Encourage them to be realistic since they’ll have to roll it up in a tight log. In my house, nothing trips the kids off line faster than not being able to get the outcome they are looking for. Keeping the ingredients to a minimum in the roll will help them get a good, tight roll and be able to cut it into beautiful pinwheels.

Might as well make one for yourself while you are at it….they might need an example, after all!

How young?

I say no child is too young to be in the kitchen. Even babies. Yes, babies. If they can sit in a bouncy seat then can be in the kitchen helping. If they can sit in a bumbo, even better.

My kids have been helping me cook since they were teeny tiny. My oldest joined me on the counter in his bumbo and sucked on a wooden spoon. My twins had bouncy seats in the kitchen and listened to me tell them what I was doing. We’ve been in the kitchen since day one. And it’s paid off. My oldest is now making dinner from start to finish on his own – he’s 9. His little sisters are into baking and will whip out a loaf of bread by themselves, only asking me to help with ingredients and the oven.

When we trot through the grocery store, I tell them everything we are getting and what we’ll use it for. This does three things; it lets them know what they can expect for upcoming meals, it allows them to have some input about snacks and other more free flowing food, and it keeps me honest. I can’t drop a bag of peppermint patties in the cart without a good reason. They’ll call me on it and expect me to share them. Ha! That’s one thing that doesn’t get shared, they are all mine.

Start the life long habit of loving healthy food early by engaging them in the process early. Share what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the outcome will be. You might be shocked at how much they retain and how happy they are to come back and help next time!

Cucumber Sandwich Snack Time

Meal time with kids can be super easy one day and super hard the next….and it seems like nothing has changed. This happens in my house and I’ve learned to just roll with it, instead of letting it make me grumpy (like it used to!). One of the steps I have taken to make snacks easier is to give the kids almost full control of what they are making. My kids are big enough they can make these mini sandwiches without any help from. Smaller kids may need help with cutting the ham into squares.

All you’ll need to make this a successful snack is a vegetable peeler, a cutting board, a small, kid-sized knife, a crinkle cutter (for those that aren’t using a knife), and the ingredients.

The kids love to peel fruit and it is a great activity to increase eye-hand coordination. The cucumber is soft enough it will cut easily, even for very little hands.

Feel free to mix up the meat based on what your kids loves. This one’s a winner!

Making Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti and sauce is a meal that kids can make from start to finish. It’s pretty cool to see the smile on their face when the fam sits down to the table and enjoys their hard work!

Here’s the recipe I have been using for years. I wrote it down once I found the combination I loved, but I stray from it every time I make it. I just let the spices guide me as portion them out…and the kids do the same!

Hand Bread

Kneading bread by hand isn’t my favorite task in the world, that’s why I have a bread machine. Tell a kid that they get to make bread and then pull out a bread machine….pppppffffffffttttttttttt. They won’t buy it, much to my chagrin.

That’s why we do hand bread in our house, and by “we”, I mean the kids make it! It’ not nearly as beautiful as what comes out of the machine, nor is it as fluffy as it could be if I took the time to knead it properly, but, really, who cares?! They love it and it certainly make sandwiches at lunch time that much easier. They’ll ALWAYS eat a piece of hand bread.

I’ve included ingredients in the recipe if you want to make it along with the video!

To plan everything out, you’ll need:

1 1/2 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup oats, 1 1/2 teaspoon yeast, 3 tablespoon dry milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup water.

Happy Kneading!

What cooking with kids really means

Bringing your little people into the kitchen is a lot of fun, and it can mean some adjustments for the us, the well-trained, habit-formed adults. They really don’t care if we want the counter spotless or that cleaning spaghetti sauce off the back of the stove is hard work. They really just want to learn about life and the world around them. Food is a great way to share a life skill and teach inquisitive minds about the world. Where food comes from, how it gets to your house, and the differences in foods that look the same are some conversation starters. Just throw a simple fact out there and watch the questions start to flow. In my house it always seems the questions are so logical yet so profound. There is so much conversation to be had around the concept of food and so many learning opportunities for little minds to soak up!

Once you have taken that deep breath (or maybe kids in the kitchen is nothing new), there are couple of realities to look at. Your kitchen won’t be the same again. It will be filled with love and giggles, the conversation will be endless, and the amount of learning that takes place will be fantastic.

The graphic below is a quick overview of the things I thought were the most important to keep in mind as you cook with kids. I’ll have more about each of these topics in upcoming posts.

Until then, happy cooking and have fun!

Fancy Dogs

I’m a big fan of kids eating real food, and I am also a mom who realizes that isn’t always reality. Would I love it if my kids never ate a hot dog or fast food again? Yes! Will that happen? No! And i am completely okay with that.

Hot dogs are pretty low on my list, that’s probably why my kids love them beyond words. It also turns out, they can be a lot of fun, as you’ll soon see here.

I recommend that this is something for bigger kids to try. I don’t recommend it for little hands. You know your kids best, you’ll know if they can do this!

Kids Making Side Dishes

I almost always have a side kick in the kitchen with me. It’s a rare moment when they aren’t dying to help out with something. Taking advantage of that opportunity is a must. It’s our moment to connect, teach them something, and I can hand one of my duties to an eager pair of helping hands.

My oldest has started making full dinners on his own, but his sisters aren’t quite there yet. They do make some great side dishes though. All they need is some basic guidance and they are off to the races. By basic guidance, I mean a verbal explanation with a repeat back of what they heard, and I help lay out all of the ingredients. I typically watch from afar and don’t offer guidance unless I must. It always tastes delicious and they are more likely to eat what they make!

This dish is one of my all time favorites. It’s simple, it delicious, and it can be made in a variety of ways to fit your schedule. The instructions here say to pop it in the oven. You can also stir it on the stove top or freeze it and then cook it from frozen.

Happy green bean cooking!

Download the recipe here.

Fruit Skewers

When my kids grow, they grow. And this means they are eating the whole house and then are instantly hungry again. I can’t keep enough food in them. When they need a snack in between the snacks, I send them to the fruit bowl. We all know that whole fruit is boring, though. So booooorrrrring. We’re mixing it up and making it fun and yummy with some super simple fruit skewers.

They can make these and eat them right away or you can toss them in the freezer for a cool treat. Sometimes frozen things go down the hatch so much easier than cooked. Frozen green peas anyone?!