Well, for a while, I wasn't exactly sure what to do with that desire to be helpful. Our counters are high, knives are sharp, and it's a lot easier to just get dinner ready by myself. But then I noticed something. If at least one of the boys is in the kitchen with me, then I am not having to cook and referee. Either they are both occupied with helping, or one is playing merrily by themselves while I have some one-on-one time with the other. That alone made it worth it to find jobs that they can help with.
The three year old is the biggest challenge - a short attention span, unpredictable with sharp objects, and wants to do whatever I am working on. Here's a list of ways we have found to have him involved:
- Setting the table - placemats, napkins, silverware. If I lay out a sample, he can match it with the others. If I don't lay out a sample, we take what we get.
- Washing vegetables - scrubbing potatoes is a favorite. We fill the sink with clean water, hand him the scrubber, and let him go. He's great at cleaning up the water outside of the sink when he's done.
- Packing fruits and veggies for lunch - he counts carrots tomatoes, and grapes into the containers.
- When he insists on being more directly involved, he places his hand on the outside of mine while I stir soup, hands me ingredients, and carries dirty measuring spoons/cups to the sink.
The five year old has become a great helper in the kitchen. With practice, not only can he do the basic things that his brother does, but some very helpful additions:
- He has learned how to use a full-on, real knife. Tonight he chopped the ends off green beans, then chopped them in half for our curry. As we were transitioning him to use knives, we found choppers like this were a great start. He uses them at school, also, and is very careful and precise.
- Measuring ingredients - we talk about quantity, and he is getting better at measuring level dry cup and spoon measurements. We are beginning to practice liquid measures also - water for now, so we aren't wasting oils or syrups with over-pours.
- Stirring, pouring, running of the mixer, greasing of baking pans (the little one does these, too, just with lower accuracy...)
- Looking at a recipe and gathering ingredients from the pantry - including matching spice names from the rack
- Getting water glasses ready for dinner, and carrying the full glasses to the table.
- Lots of baking - rolling dough, cutting out cookies, peeling apples for pie, etc.
Both boys constantly surprise me with the things they are interested in trying in the kitchen. I hope that these small steps lead us to some experimental cooking of their own. And by the time they are 8-10, the plan is to have them prepare one meal a week. I want them to leave home feeling comfortable and capable in the kitchen - and if they are anything like their dad, they'll be cooking circles around me!