This Mama Mondays post is about encouraging your kids to help you in the kitchen. I’ll keep it short because I still have a lot to learn (!) but I have some resources that will help you get started and a couple tips for helping to introduce special needs children to cooking. (In the future, I plan to develop a “How To Do Stuff With Your Kids” series on cooking with special needs in mind–right now it’s just laundry–under the “Family” menu tab above and instructions in EACH recipe how to include your children in meal prep). I hope this post will whet your appetite for FAMILY FOOD FUN in the kitchen (throw in a little FAITH and you’ll have all the ingredients for a major Helping of Hope!)
When I got started with this “all-natural cooking” thing back in September ’11, I couldn’t believe how much time I was spending in the kitchen. I was used to opening cans and jars, mixing, and baking on high heat in toxic, non-stick pans. There was a huge learning curve for me, mostly because I was trying to learn EVERYTHING at once: how to throw bad ingredients out, learning which ingredients were most nutritious, learning the best ways to cook, how to make yogurt, how to cook beans, how to cook breads, how to find healthy recipes to replace the food my family was missing…it was nutrition boot-camp, self-imposed. Of course now, it’s easy…or easiER. I know how to cut corners in prep without cutting corners in nutrition. I know where to invest my time and where not to. The fact remains it still takes more time and effort to cook food from scratch than to microwave a freezer dinner (but it is soooo worth it, please trust me on that!). I couldn’t help feeling conflicted; I wanted to make healthy food in the kitchen, but it was seriously cutting into time with my children. They would watch TV shows or a Disney movie while I scurried in the kitchen, nervously poking my head into the living room every five minutes to make sure my then three- and five-year old weren’t getting into anything they shouldn’t, or that my FXS child hadn’t fallen asleep on (and wet) the sofa. Sigh.
To be honest, the thought of including my children in meal prep DID occur to me…but so did the mess they might make, the fits they might throw, and the unwillingness (or inability) to follow directions. I wasn’t sure how to give them tasks that were age- and ability-appropriate. For me, learning this new-fangled… I mean, old-fangled cooking thing was stressful enough that I didn’t want to add child-wrangling to the situation. Helping of Hope: you CAN cook with your children, spending valuable time with them, encouraging them to be independent, and instilling a love for healthy choices that will lead them to their own bright future!
I’m learning from GNOWFGLINS (a blog created by Wardeh Harmon) HOW to encourage my children in the kitchen and how to instill in them a love for healthy food. I think I’m succeeding with my 15-year-old stepchild; she’s already excited about our coming up with 4, seasonal week-long menus of made-from scratch “comfort” (real) foods for college. It’s another three years away, but it gives her an end-goal to encourage her to learn to cook independently in the kitchen. My four year-old is always eager to help, but my five year old FXS child…well, lets say she’s “apprehensive” (as any FXS child might be when doing something out of routine).
- Don’t just use children as “helpers” in the kitchen: encourage them to do tasks and eventually entire meals independently.
- Special needs kids: If your child has attention deficits, set a timer and give him a simple task to do. Many real foods require short preparation steps (with long periods of waiting in between): sprouting and preparing yogurt, for example, require very little interaction and it is something he can learn to be entirely responsible for.
- Special needs kids: If a special needs child has limited mobility, set up a workspace for him that makes it more comfortable to work independently; give him activities so he can contribute something to the meal along with his siblings and assist him as necessary.
I do my best not to let information “sit”; I know if I don’t get my foot in the door of my heart (talk about a mixed metaphor…and an unpleasant one at that!), I won’t get anything done. IMMEDIATELY after the Webinar, I thought I would “give it a go” and have my children help me make mini-pizzas using toasted sourdough hamburger-buns and our Fresh & Fast Pizza Sauce. It worked really well! Daddy loved coming home and eating the yummy food the kids had made him; they were as pleased as punch to make something (mostly) healthy and grown-up, with a little supervision and assistance.
Here is the biggest lesson I have learned so far when encouraging an FXS / Autistic child with Auditory Sensory Processing issues:
INTRODUCE a sensitive child to kitchen equipment GRADUALLY (please use your best judgment whether or not the child is capable of using or interacting with a gadget safely. See my disclaimer –>).
- Have him look at and identify the kitchen gadget. Explain to him what it does and how it helps you.
- Have him touch or inspect the equipment when it is off (don’t let him touch anything dangerous and make sure the item is unplugged).
- Have him sit in the kitchen on a “safe chair” while someone else uses the gadget (if you can keep him in the room: I used a Yummy Earth sucker to keep mine sitting on a chair in the kitchen. She was very upset by the sound but a firm Mama and reassuring sibling helped her to cope).
- If he is able, ask him to touch a safe part of the equipment (or stand near it) while it is in use. This will help him learn there is nothing to fear even though the sound is overwhelming. Do not let him run out of the room; he may return to his safe chair for a reward and continue watching.
- Finally, if he is able to do the above steps and if it is age- and ability-appropriate for him to do so, ask him to interact with the equipment for a reward. Don’t give him a reward unless he interacts with the equipment as specified. If he refuses, keep giving him opportunities. As he watches you or his siblings interact with the equipment from his safe chair or spot, he may reach a point where he is willing or neurologically mature enough to assist as specified.
We are still working on staying in the kitchen while the mini-blender is operating 🙂
If you want to learn how to incorporate your child in the kitchen (special needs or not) so they can have a bright future, I encourage you to take part in GNOWFGLINS‘ eCourse Real Food Kids: In The Kitchen. It starts tomorrow (first video in a weekly series: all videos are available all the time to members once they are posted) so make sure to sign up for GNOWFGLINS membership today!
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