Cooking Around Your Toddler: 101

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How to Cook with a toddler AROUND your Toddler: 101

I have a confession to make.  Okay, not much of a confession if you know me, so let’s just say I have a statement to make.  I enjoy food, good food.
I believe the term used for the type of person I am is technically a “foodie”, but I think that sometimes that sounds too pretentious.  Food doesn’t have to be fancy for me to enjoy it, quite the contrary, actually.  I don’t prefer fancy-schmancy food that famous chefs serve up & is beautiful as art, but couldn’t fill-up a mouse’s belly.  I want to be able to have more than just a teaspoon to taste (some exceptions do apply).  Home-cooked meals and cheap meals are often good food.  Don’t be mistaken though into thinking homemade qualifies as the only criteria to be considered “GOOD”. (Many homemade dishes should never be forced upon others.  bleh!)
Lots of foods can fall into my Good category.  It doesn’t have to be only one type.  It can be greasy, fair food; healthy, good-for-you food; sweets; herbs; meat; vegetables; liquid; solid; traditional food; non-traditional flavor combos too. It just has to be good tasting.  It would take to long to define what “good” means, so just believe me.  I have good taste & I like good food.

Before I had a child of my own, I used to regularly cook & bake home-cooked meals & treats.  I like trying dishes from all over the globe, experimenting, playing with new recipes, etc.. I would often try these out on my non-foodie husband (who actually would prefer to have the same, comfort foods every night, but instead he got stuck with a wife that tries to expand his food horizons).   I enjoy cake/pastry decorating too, so I would bake and decorate many (too many for 2 people) concoctions of the sweet influence for us to eat as well.

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This all changed when I became pregnant with Micah.  While pregnant, food smelled and tasted bad. No longer did I want to partake in all the deliciousness that food had to offer.  🙁 This was hard for me, and I longed for those 9 months to be over.  
After Micah was born there was no time (or energy) for culinary fun.  I was recovering from a surgery that took 7 months of healing time, and I had a child that feed EVERY hour until he was one year old.  ( I kid you not! This is truth.  My child’s metabolism was SO FAST that he Needed to eat Every hour he was awake.)  I was exhausted all the time.  I’m pretty sure all I did was breastfeed, change diapers, and get my child to sleep (and somehow manage to do chores, go to playgroup and church).  After Micah turned one year I thought that I could squeeze in a little cooking time, but soon found this wasn’t easy, or realistic.  I ended up doing most of my cooking/baking at night, after the kid went to bed.  The problem with this is when you’re up past your bedtime trying to cook you tend to make mistakes because you’re sleepy.  Some of these dishes ended up in the trash can.   I tried to cook while Micah was awake, but many times he would need me just as I got to the critical point in a recipe, and the food would end up burnt, or worse!  🙁
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Now, some food enthusiasts or chefie-types out there may not understand how cooking with a toddler is so hard.  They manage to cook at home and their child never interferes (or actually helps them cook the meal).  They think it’s all about raising your child to be comfortable in the kitchen.  Well, this may work if your child has the right personality that fits perfectly to your lifestyle, but my child is a little more high-maintenance than that.   Believe me, I did try this approach. I got Micah a cute, kid-sized apron, I include him in the kitchen affairs of cooking, cleaning, and food selection as much as possible.  We also have a really, cool, tower/stool for him to stand on that allows him to be at counter height, so he can be involved.  I try to make cooking fun/interesting, & I showed Micah how to be comfortable in the kitchen…… But, he’s not ready for full-on immersion into the culinary world.  He gets bored after 5 minutes max, and then wants to play.  (What 2 year old doesn’t?)  I’m not completely poo-pooing this idea, I’m just saying it doesn’t work with all kids, or at all ages/stages.

Because of Micah’s non-verbalness ( I know,… it’s not a word.)  & the fact that I am his FAVORITE person right now, create a complex situation so I can’t cook in the kitchen while he plays in the other room either.  He wants me WITH him, playing WITH him, CONSTANTLY. If I try to steal away, he will come find me, take my hand, and lead me back to playing.  If I refuse, he will have a complete meltdown because he can’t understand this concept yet, and doesn’t know how to handle his frustration yet either.  (Hopefully both will be fixed with maturity, time, and ABA.)
So, I have finally started figuring out how we can work around this dilemma….

Micah’s favorite form of play is anything involving chase.  Whatever we are doing will likely end up a game of tag, no matter how unrelated to chase that the activity may have started out as.  So…INSTEAD of hopelessly fighting against the tide & ending up exhausted, upset, and with a burnt/messed-up meal, I had the idea to incorporate his playing chase into my cooking/baking process.
For example, If I’m cooking and Micah wants to play, but I’m supposed to be stirring constantly for a particular recipe, then I will give the dish a really good stir, then go chase my son & during the chase I will make a loop on my path back through to the kitchen to stir again.  I usually buy myself 20 secs of time on my loop back in before Micah would notice, so as long as I keep popping back out to continue the chase every few seconds or so then he is happy with the game and doesn’t get upset or try and pull me away from the kitchen.  This is also a really good way to incorporate a bit of exercise into my daily routine… plus, when the food is done I am really, ready to eat!  🙂
So far, when I try this method of Run-Around Cooking, it works well enough that my dishes aren’t getting ruined, and our day/evening doesn’t end up getting ruined either. There are some dishes that I can’t use this for, but I can arrange to cook/bake those for  when the kiddo is sleeping.
I’m not giving up on the Cook-with-My-Child method either.  I will still do this with him, but when he’s had enough and wants to play instead, I will transition to the Run-Around method.  Simple, easy, and will save my dishes and my sanity.  I like that.

I still need to work out what to do for trying to cook around meltdowns or sickness, other than takeout, microwaving frozen meals, or eating instant Ramen. but I’m happy enough with this mini-step that we can save that to tackle for another day.

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P.S. My comments should be working properly again.  Apparently, they went wacky & required people to have some weird log-in.
Sorry about that.


One Response to "Cooking Around Your Toddler: 101"

  • Yeah, it was set to require a login (maybe one of the upgrades changed the setting).

    1 Darren said this (February 28, 2012 at 9:05 am)


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