Cooking with a wookie (or a toddler)

I'm sure at this point in parenting/life, you've all read the "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie" book. It's one of Chewie's favorites, most likely because every time we read it for bed time, it gives him a new idea for a stall tactic: "Milk? More Stories? I draw now? Cookie?" No, Chewie, it's bed time, not Cookie Time.

But part of the reason why I love that book is it captures the toddler process so well, at least in our house. Because, it turns out, if you potty train a toddler, you're going to have to give him a step stool. And if you give him a step stool, he's gonna carry it all over your house, and if he carries it all over your house, he's gonna bring it in the kitchen. And if he brings it in the kitchen, he's gonna start demanding to cook.

Now, we've always let Chewie "help" in the kitchen, but pre-step stool/independence days, I could normally prepare a cooking project for him, and get everything ready so it was prepared for a toddler and it was an "event". Now, cooking with Mom and Dad is an every night occurrence. So unless I have ways to occupy him while I cook, dinner will be takeout.

I've also read somewhere that having kids help with cooking will make them more likely to eat healthy and try new things. And while that's an added bonus of having Chewie help in the kitchen, as I've said before, the main purpose is to keep him entertained while I actually cook dinner.

So, in case anyone else has a toddler who has to help, here are the ways we've found to have Chewie help, along with a few of our favorite recipes that are toddler friendly.

  • Using a Food Processor: It should probably come as no surprise that Chewie and my cooking skills are pretty much on the same level. I have always loved cooking with a food processor because it's so easy, and really difficult to screw up. Same goes for when a toddler uses it. There's lots of dumping involved, which Chewie loves, and he gets to push the buttons to start and stop it. Also, it literally won't turn on unless it's completely locked in safety mode, so you really can't hurt yourself, or your toddler. We use this food processor, which is pretty big and has a hole up top so Chewie can dump while it's running. But I'm sure any old food processor would work.

  • Cutting Food: Using actual knives is a bit of a struggle in our house. Chewie is convinced he can do it. I'm convinced he's going to slice all his fingers off. I am, however, a big believer that kids can do way more than we give them credit for, so I'm torn about this. For right now, since he's only 2.5, only adults are allowed to use the sharp knives, and he's allowed to use butter knives. So, I'll let him slice butter, cheese, and soft veggies. But my friend did tell me about this knife set that's designed for kids. But even they say it's for 5 and up (or rather, they say it's for "young gastronomic apprentices ages 5 and up"....and their use of "gastronomic apprentice" makes me want to not buy from them on principle alone?). It does have great reviews, and it appears it'd be pretty difficult to do serious damage. So maybe this will be a birthday present. Because what says "Happy 3rd Birthday" like a set of knives.

  • Turning the oven on and off: For whatever reason, Chewie is obsessed with turning the oven on and off and setting timers. So often, I'll just let him set timers for random things to keep him occupied. He's figured out what order to push the buttons, so it buys me a small amount of time if I need to do something else. Plus, I suppose it's helping him learn his numbers. Although if it's a timer you actually need to use, be sure to double check their work. Chewie once set our pasta for 5 hours and 55 minutes. Definitely not al dente.

  • Recipes: There aren't many (because I'm not that creative), but here are some recipes that have worked well to have Chewie help. It is probably no coincidence that they're also extremely easy and are forgiving with exact measurements.

  • Homemade Lara Bars: Take 15 pitted dates and 1/4 cup peanuts. Add a dash of salt. Put them into a food processor and blend until the mixture starts to clump up. Then roll them into individual balls, and put them in the fridge. You're done. You're welcome.

  • Pesto: Dump some variation of the following into the food processor- 2 handfuls of basil (or kale, or spinach, or mint, or arugula, or any leafy can even mix them); 1/4 cup pine nuts (or peacans, or walnuts, or pistachios or almonds); zest and juice of one lemon; 1 clove garlic; 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil; salt and pepper to taste.

  • Roasting Veggies: We often roast veggies in our house, and depending on which vegetable, it allows Chewie to dice. I used to drizzle and season the vegetables on the roasting pans, until one day Chewie dumped all the salt on ONE piece of cauliflower, and I wised up and put everything in a bowl. I will pre-measure the spices (normally just salt, pepper, and red pepper or rosemary) because Chewie gets impatient when I measure and also wants to dump directly out of the containers, which can be a problem (see the salt incident). Our favorites to roast are asparagus, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and eggplant. I let Chewie go nuts with dumping the olive oil and seasoning in the bowl. And he loves stirring everything with a spoon.

So that's it. We're by no means professional chefs, but it keeps us busy, keeps us eating moderately healthy, and for now, everyone still has their fingers-- which in my book-- is a victory.



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