Muffins With a Toddler
I found some delicious organic peaches and didn't want them to go bad before we could enjoy each and every one so we made muffins! This muffin-making solution is something I learned from my own childhood: too many zucchini in the garden? Chocolate zucchini cake! An abundance of produce, or produce starting to go bad, meant cooking or baking something delicious. I know that this process doesn't sound enjoyable to everyone but for me, it's something I truly love and want to share with my child. Even if this isn't your thing through and through, there are lots of benefits to cooking or baking with your child that may make it more appealing, and no one said you have to do it all from scratch. What’s so magical about cooking (including baking) with your child? It’s going to be impossible to include all the many reasons to bring children into the kitchen with us but I will focus most on the social and emotional benefits for children, although there is a lot to said for all the other skills cooking can support.
First and foremost, I have a core philosophy that guides my interaction with children in general and certainly applies to cooking: children learn exponentially about themselves, others, and the world when trusted adults engage and involve them in tasks of daily living. What I mean by this is that children learn most when we include them in the things that adults do. It means getting gas with them, taking them along to the grocery store, doing yard work, brushing our teeth, folding laundry, getting the mail, eating dinner...the list goes on. And I don’t just mean sneaking these tasks in around children—I mean involving them actively, whether that means narrating what you’re doing, conversing with them directly, or giving the slightly older child an active role in what your doing. I wish more adults would mindfully include children as opposed to creating a divide between child and adult but more on this in another post. I'm just going to post 5 of my favorite reasons to engage in food-making with your child.
1. Build Connection. Always connection-focused around here, huh? It’s undeniably important for optimal development, plus it improves the parent-child relationship, meaning that the more connected you are with your child, the more you’ll enjoy each other. Cooking together is an opportunity to bring a child into our world with us, an adult world where they can learn so much about life and to a child, this is thrilling. I’ve seen first hand how exhilarating it is for a child to be trusted with a task like cracking an egg or measuring salt (carefully distinguished from sugar!). My little guy isn’t ready for that much independence yet but he will be before too long. Basically, we can use cooking as a vehicle to connect with a child and show them that we trust them, we value their input, and that we think they’re capable. These are foundational to a child developing a positive self concept that will benefit them for a lifetime. Plus, cooking together is perfect for talking, asking questions and listening, being playful, and enjoying each other. It’s an experience worth trying to give your child, even if it’s just once in a while, or if it makes a mess here and there.
2. Quell the Likelihood of Picky Eating. Not exactly a social-emotional issue at first glance but of course to me, it is! Picky eating is an extremely common topic that turns into power struggles between parent and child and for that reason alone, it’s worth considering it an emotional development issue. Children who are engaged in food preparation are more likely to eat a wider variety of foods. If they take part in it, they’re more likely to try it (aka less power struggles to get your child to try broccoli)!
Also, when we engage children in where food comes from and teach them about ingredients in an interactive way, it can becoming interesting to them and amp them up to be adventurous eaters. Get them interested by engaging with them: ask your child where they think a pineapple comes from, let them touch the funny skin of a kiwi, show them the variety of nuts and let them taste test, take a moment to check out all the yogurt flavors and let them tell you which sounds best, talk about eggs and where they come from and let your child open the carton and check for cracks. Not only does this type of exploration and teaching get kids into food, it lets you engage with them and teach them new information and skills, which is certainly a bonding experience for both of you. Read on!
3. Teach Valuable Skills.
Speaking of teaching, children can learn so much from the process of cooking. Children who are exposed to doing a task like cooking with adults can really boost their school readiness. But, in reality, your child’s emotion regulation skills are shown to actually have the biggest impact on school successes but it certainly doesn’t hurt to also focus on more traditional academic skills because the reality is, anything that makes a child feel more confident and enjoy learning, will be beneficial to them in ALL ways. So, engage with your child around food: look for colors, shapes, textures, smells, size comparison, and more. How many carrots do we have? What color are the peppers? Which ingredient is wet and which is dry? Which fruit is bigger? Smaller? How many apples can we fit in this bowl? How many cups do we need? Try doubling a recipe for some great math practice for an older child. Try making a grocery list with words or symbols for your child to follow at the store. Have them read you the recipe. All this learning will happen in a fun, playful, and connected way and help your child in amazing ways.
4. Foster Cooperation.
Cooking together requires teamwork and it also requires you to follow certain steps, whether or not you’re following a recipe. Following your direction is sort-of built into the cooking process so, when you’re connected to your child and having fun cooking, and also giving directions to them, you’re essentially practicing compliant behavior and it's been shown to "rub off" in other interactions with your child as well. It’s actually very similar to therapeutic approaches, like Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, where parents and clinicians work to establish listening and compliance within the context of connection and play as a means reduce defiance and challenging behaviors long-term. So cooking with your child can be very beneficial to creating positive behavior and patterns of listening and compliance in the moment and also longer term.
5. Model Coping Skills and Problem-Solving.
Sometimes things go wrong. You forget to turn on the oven, a shell from an egg falls into the bowl, you’re all out of cinnamon, you added the ingredients in the wrong order...something. What a great opportunity to demonstrate problem-solving skills and, if your child is old enough, teamwork to solve it together. This is also your chance to model coping and learning from mistakes. Instead of losing your mind over spilled milk (ha-ha), you can show your child how to take a deep breath and regulate before cleaning it all up. In every day life we don’t often give ourselves the opportunities to demonstrate adult ways of coping and problem-solving and cooking together is a great way to do so.
All in all, there are a bunch of ways that cooking is great for kids but what I think the very biggest and best reason to cook with your child is...connection. Any time you have fun with your child and really focus on just being together, it will benefit your child in ways we can’t even describe. To me, cooking together is a good standard for parent-child interaction because so much learning can happen while the connection between you is strengthened. Don’t be afraid to do it. Remember, mistakes are learning opportunities and the food certainly doesn’t need to be perfect. Good luck and happy parenting!