Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to Enjoy Cooking with your Kids

Cooking with kids can be:
a. Fun
b. Torture
c. Messy
d. Educational
e. All of the above

The answer is "e" on any given day in our house, depending on the mother's mood. I have to say, I rarely look at it as torture. Well, maybe a tad frustrating if I forget that they are little and messes happen (even to me when I'm not paying attention!).

I grew up cooking with my mom. Some of my best childhood memories are from the kitchen where we laughed, talked, and taste-tested. I call myself a "Sugar Baby" as I am convinced that my mom's sweet tooth was passed on to me in-utero!

I am a firm believer that not every child in the universe likes only mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. In fact, if someone served me this diet on a regular basis, I would definitely revolt! If we keep feeding kids boring and bland food, that is all they will ever know. Don't insult their taste buds. Let them explore different herbs, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. You will someday be pleasantly surprised by the child who likes quinoa and tabbouleh with fresh mint leaves.

One way to get them to broaden their culinary horizons is to let the kids help you cook. Now, you're probably thinking that you don't have time, it's too messy, you don't really have the patience at the end of a long day, etc. And you're right! But you know, sometimes, you need to step back and let them do it. Kids really do love to help, especially in the kitchen. In case you have a picky eater (and who doesn't at some point?), letting them cook with you is a great way to expose them to different tastes, textures, and smells. And who knows, they might start eating all the funky foods you like! And suddenly, your usually quiet 7 year old suddenly starts opening up about this blond girl at school....

Here are some useful tips to get cooking with the little ones:

1. Get the step stool(s) ready.

2. Little People/Big Tools really don't go hand in hand, so opt for a little whisk, little spoon, little spatula, you get the idea.

3. Safety Rules: Yes, I know you all have common sense but sometimes we get caught up in the moment when the chocolate chip cookies are ready. Make sure the kids steer clear of a 4 foot radius of the open oven. No running in the kitchen, EVER, while cooking. Keep the knives far away, and hide the extra chocolate chips from the kids.

4. Know your limits, and theirs. This means that your kids don't need to cook for 30 minutes straight. In their little world, 5 minutes is a long time. The kitchen timer comes in handy here.

5. When cooking with more than 1 child, give each one a job. You know what they say about too many hands. Let one child pour, one mix, one measure, etc. And speaking of hands, make sure they wash 'em before they start cooking.

6. Let them smell the spices but be careful. You don't want your 2 year old sneezing incessantly after inhaling too much cinnamon or red pepper flakes. Waving the spice jar under the nose is much safer or place some in their little hands to touch and sniff.

7. REMAIN CALM AT ALL TIMES..... EVEN WHEN YOUR 7 YEAR OLD CRACKS EGGS ALL OVER THE KITCHEN COUNTER AND THE DOG STARTS LOPPING UP THE LIQUID EGGS OFF THE FLOOR. Not that this has ever happened while giving a lesson on egg separation, but my point is to be adventurous. (If I teach the boys just enough in the kitchen, my future daughters in-law will thank me for making their lives easier and hopefully it decreases my chances of ending up in a nursing home.)

8. Make things that they like. Pancakes are great because they get to reap the rewards right after. And did I mention cookies?

9. Make things they don't like. Yes, it's not always about them, right? Eventually they will need to eat more variety so why not start young. The crazier the food, the better!

10. Let the kitchen double as a classroom. For school age kids it's a great way to sneak in math concepts, fractions, and measuring. You can also save money on a tutor this way.

11. For the really little ones ages 10 -18 month olds, give them a bunch of empty plastic containers and some wooden spoons, old measuring cups, etc to play with. This will surely buy you some time while you prepare your next masterpiece.

Do you have any tips for cooking with kids? Please share them here!

ps. The photo above is my son Nicolas eating homemade pizza sauce, one of his faves.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Becky's Israeli Couscous Salad

I really enjoy shopping at Trader Joe's and recently submitted a recipe using TJ's ingredients. I also had the chance to interview with Deana Gunn who is a co-author of "Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's" and "The Trader Joe's Companion". It was a really fun interview and got me thinking a lot about cooking with and for kids, so you can guess that I will be blogging about it soon!

Here is my latest creation: Becky's Israeli Couscous Salad. Take a look and try this recipe for yourself. http://blog.cookingwithtraderjoes.com/2010/06/23/beckys-israeli-couscous-salad.aspx.

Let me know how you all like it, OK?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


This week we ushered in the beginning of summer vacation.....for the children. Is it really a "vacation" for the parents?

Today was the 2ND full day of vacation for our 7 year old. My eyes were barely open, my first cup of coffee not even yet poured, and my mouth guard was still in its rightful place when he showed me his list of "Things to do Today". He said I got to choose which activity we would do....it was all up to me!

His list included the following:

1. Toy Story 3

2. Buy "Silly Bands" (in case you are living under a rock, these are rubber bracelets and are causing quite a stir in the schools lately because kids are so enamored with the fact that when you take them off, they retain the shape of a hippo, a star or a cat.)

3. Sleepover at Nana's (this seems like the best option but Nana was unavailable!)

I was stalked all morning with this list. Everywhere I went, I was followed by the boy with "the list". If you've seen the John Cusack classic "Better off Dead" where the paperboy is constantly chasing a family for the "TWO DOLLARS" they owe him, you get the idea. Only my kid is much cuter and more polite about his stalking.

When I became a mom, I was showered with books about how to feed, change and burp the baby, but no one gave me the parenting manual with the chapter entitled, "Do as he says, and no one gets hurt". It seems these little people have so quickly mastered the art of Hostage Negotiation. Their constant, specific demands will eventually wear you down to the point that you just give in and pay the ransom.

So, after giving a motherly speech about how "we have all summer to do fun stuff", and "we can't do something every day, especially if it costs money because we can't afford it", and "I'm not going to see you pouting all summer if you don't get your way"; I negotiated a plea bargain and went with #2 on the list.

Monday, June 14, 2010

When We Were Little....

Ahhh, you know you're getting old when you start uttering those 4 words. It's true though, don't you think? Times are really so different now for kids and parents. It's all so wacky to me, I thought I'd reminisce about the way things used to be when I was a youngster.

Yes, "I was young once too", is another thing I hear myself saying. Argh!!

When we were little:

1. There were no "Play Dates". We just went to the neighbor's house to play for hours and our parents never ever checked on us. They must have figured, the less they knew, the better. Now, kids have scheduled playtime and it's written on a calendar (in my world of paper and pen, or on one of those new-fangled techno-devices people are using nowadays). We played well into the night, a game called "Manhunt" which today, sounds like something on the Nancy Grace show.

2. There were no SAHMs (Stay At Home Moms). Well, they were there, but they just weren't called that! The SAHMs from days of yore actually STAYED HOME, whereas the SAHMs of today are always gallivanting. Amen sisters.

3. To enrich our lives we played "school", "ice cream truck", Monopoly, Sorry, CandyLand, Yahtzee, Checkers, etc. In our house, we played "Step on Stomachs" to see who could endure the most pain. There was no Little Gym, no Mommy & Me Yoga class, no Baby Einstein DVDs (what the heck was a DVD, we didn't even have VCRs back then), no toddler piano and French lessons, and certainly no Gymboree.

4. Our mothers didn't obsess or stress over which diapers to use (most of them used cloth as it was before the invention of Pampers!), which formula to use, which car seats to buy (ha, lucky we all made it out alive!), there were no choices and no crash studies. There was no Babies R' Us. Just K-Mart, Ann & Hope, & Sears. There were no Binky holders, Baby Bjorns, travel systems, and wipe warmers.
We were bathed in a basin at the foot of our driveway (and if you don't believe me, I have a picture of my brother in one to prove it.)

5. Some of our mothers smoke and drank during pregnancy (not that I am condoning this!) and now, you can't even eat feta cheese or lunch meat while prego. Just merely pointing out one of the many differences in prenatal care.

6. Positive Reinforcement was not yet invented. Its evil sister, "The Secret Pinch" you got in public, was however, very much alive.

Somehow, my generation managed to produce some highly successful people. We did not suffer irreparable harm, only required a standard dose of psychotherapy here and there, and escaped with minimal scarring.

When I am struggling with a parenting dilemma, big or small, I ask myself just one question:
Will this decision adversely affect my child in 20 years? The answer is always a resounding "no" and always keeps me grounded in reality.

So truly, bathing a baby in the driveway is OK. Although, my brother might disagree!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Drooling, Wake Night with Hubby and other signs it's time to get out

As a partially SAHM (stay at home mom, yes, it's a stupid term!), and part-time worker, I, like many other moms out there don't have a lot of "alone" time with me, myself and I, or with my husband.

Below are some signs that it's time to get out, either with your spouse or just you, yourself, and you, for some fun or serious adult interaction:

1. While checking out at the local Cumberland Farms you strike up a 10 minute conversation with the cashier about the upcoming "Free Slushies on Fridays". You tell him how much you enjoy "Freebie Fridays" and he starts telling you that only one out of every 50 customers cleans up after themselves near the Slushy machine and he HATES "Freebie Fridays." You promise him you will not make a mess when you get your free slushy and you really hope his Friday is not so bad.

2. You start a blog, a Facebook Fan page, and numerous other non-sensical FB groups to amuse yourself.

3. You look forward to that annual gyno appointment just so you can be alone in the examining room twiddling your thumbs and drooling while you wait an hour for your ObGyn doc to appear. Paper robe is optional.

4. Perusing the card aisle at CVS is the most fun you've had in a while. Have you seen all those musical cards? They are a hoot!

5. Your "Date Night with Hubby" is actually "Wake Night with Hubby". This happens when you and your spouse haven't been out alone together, except for the unfortunate wake you must attend. Sadly, you enjoy Wake Night with Hubby.

Ok, I think it's time to call a babysitter now....