Involving your child in food preparation (when you have absolutely no time to do so)
In an ideal world we would have time to prepare one meal with our Piccolini or Preschooler every day. We would have an extra hour in the day to wash, chop, grind, savour and do the washing up!
However, the reality of busy lives, whether both parents work outside the home or not, means that more often than not, we do not have the time or patience to prepare a meal together as a collaborative activity.
From when they are walking confidently, your young child will be keen to help, and be part of your “work” in the kitchen. You really want to empower them, support them in learning and practicing new skills, and you know that they absolutely love being with you in the kitchen. Yet, equally, you need to whip something up quickly without extra work for yourself.
There are five very simple things that can be done for every mealtime that can foster independence and support new skills. These require just a few extra seconds to put into practice. (I promise!)
1) Let your child prepare the starter. A starter can be chopping up some cucumber or spreading butter or soft cheese on a cracker. Something very simple and light that is not going to spoil their appetite, but something that calls for their concentration and full engagement. An appropriate knife for chopping for a very young child is one that requires two hands on the handle.
Invite your child to come to the table to prepare the starter. She will fetch the chopping board and knife from her cupboard, and the cucumber from the fridge. When she has gathered all that she needs and feels ready, she can climb into her high chair and get started.
Depending on her age, you may need to guide and/or talk her through these first steps. A two year old will need support to succeed initially. With practice, a three year old will probably be able to manage on their own.
2) Food should always be served in small dishes so that, with supervision they can serve themselves into their own plate.
For a Piccolini who craves to feel in control, this simple act of them having the joy of serving themselves is so empowering.
Help your child to succeed by putting only a very little food in the serving dish. For a very young child who is just succeeding in holding a spoon and being able to transfer from one bowl to another just one dessertspoon of food is enough to start with.
3) Can you put a little olive oil in a jug that they can then pour on their food themselves? Or a dip or sauce in a separate small dish that they can spoon or pour on? Can you give them parsley, mint or basil to pull off the stalks and then tear into smaller pieces to sprinkle onto the food?
4) Have a small pepper grinder on the table so they can grind their own pepper like they see adults doing. (Don’t worry, they won’t be able to grind much, or any of it at all). Using a grinder requires wrist flexibility, finger strength and coordination. These skills for effective use of the grinder only arrive around 2&½, at which time they will be able to understand to only add a little to their plate otherwise they’ll get a shock!
5) From around twelve months onwards you can show them how to peel a (cooled) boiled egg, they will do this with ease over the age of two!
The crucial element in all of these practices is to give your child autonomy. She is preparing her own starter, serving herself her food, and adding the seasoning just as she likes it! For us, as parents, to see her delight in doing all of this is truly magical.
The bi-product of this approach is that power struggles surrounding eating and mealtimes will melt away. Your child is an active participant in the mealtime experience, not a passive recipient. She is empowered, full engaged in the enjoyment and ritual of eating and mealtime.
And as always, once the food is on the table, sit together with your child. Pause for a moment to share your Grace ritual, giving thanks and grounding you all in this perfect moment.
Bon Appétit 😍