This is the time of year for indulging. Whether it’s with food, presents, time spent on yourself or on someone else, it is a time of year where people seem to say ‘yes’ when other times they would say ‘no’.
It can also be a time of year where the cold, rain or snow, along with the darkness creep in, and we are forced to keep ourselves busy and occupied inside our houses. And with young children with nurseries and schools closed for Christmas holidays, this attempt to ‘keep busy’ (aka- avoid tears) is even greater.
Baking and cooking has always been one of my go-to fail safes for keeping my kids entertained. It has been a wonderful way for us to spend time together that doesn’t involve a screen. It gives me an easy opportunity to teach them something or give them a new experience, as well as enjoy (hopefully) delicious results. But I have also learned in order for this experience to be enjoyed by all parties, there are some givens I need to accept, and some responsibilities I need to harness before the mixing and rolling and decorating begin. 1. The joy of cooking with your kids is really in the process, not the final product- at least not the look of it. Inevitably your cookies will be wonky, your cake will be doused in an unhealthy amount glitter and sprinkles, your ice lollies will not be mixed thoroughly, and your pizzas will be a soggy topping-filled mess. It doesn’t matter. The experience is totally worth it.
2. Kids, at least my kids anyhow, don’t get the whole ‘less is more thing’. So if I want them using less, I give them less to start with. No matter what we are making any ingredient offered will always get used up in its entirety (case in point- my cake and pizza examples above).
3. Measure everything out BEFORE your kids join in. Want to piss off a toddler? Tell her she gets to make a cake and then make her sit there while you spend the first ten minutes measuring out flour, sugar etc. It is well worth measuring out everything into separate bowls, or cups, especially if you have more than one kid of more than one age joining you, and you need to divvy up the tasks so everyone gets a turn. By prepping ahead it’s very easy to then assign the tasks of pouring and stirring quickly and smoothly so everyone is fully participating, enthusiastic about turn taking, and anticipating what comes next. We always have one stirrer and one bowl holder, so no one ever has nothing to do. Both of my girls also get equal chances for inclusion when I make it possible for them both to do the tasks asked of them (by doing things like measuring out the ingredients into small accessible bowls etc.). There is minimal fighting over anything, because nothing is a ‘big girl’ job. Except for the time I gave Isla the task of cracking the eggs. She’s not yet two. It ended in tears. That was my bad.
4. Be prepared for mess. Don’t cook with your kids the day after you gave the kitchen a deep clean. Or do, but accept that it will be messy. I stop myself a dozen times from immediately wiping up their spills during the cooking process, unless it’s really getting in the way. I know (and use) the whole clean-as-you-go practice when it’s just me, but it can get both intimidating and distracting for a little person if you are constantly wiping up after them. Teach them about the whole cleaning thing when they’re bigger (I don’t know what age qualifies as ‘bigger’ yet… I’ll let you know when we get there). After we’ve finished up our recipe, I generally wipe down the girls and then send them to watch Sesame Street so I can clean up. Sometimes I include them in the clean up process but I think they are still a bit young for it.
5. Even if it’s the ugliest cookie you’ve ever seen in your life, they will be proud of it. They will want to show it to you a million times over. And then they will eat it and completely move on, as though it never happened. But you know it did because you entire kitchen is covered in flour and their is cocoa in your daughter’s eyebrow. The great news is that you can have the entire rest of the batch of cookies or cake or whatever you made to yourself, because they will have forgotten about it entirely. Elmo has magical mind-erasing powers in this house.
Happy holidays everyone! I hope you get time off of work, tucked in the kitchen with your favourite people (even if that favourite person is just yourself!), making (and eating!) something delicious just because you have nothing but time and no where else you would rather be.