As all Tickle Fingers followers on facebook, twitter and instagram will be aware of (and probably too much so by now!), we have just finished our #BakeForHeroes for Help For Heroes; 6 days of baking with 50 children aged 1 to 6 at Tickle Fingers HQ (a.k.a. my home). Many people I know think I'm a little crazy, both for cooking with my own children since they were 13 months old and even more so for inviting other people's children to do so in my house. I'm about to make them think I am really nuts by saying I absolutely loved it. And this is why...
I love seeing toddlers, who aren't known for their concentration spans, focus so completely on a task like cooking. Check out the concentration on these faces:
2. Dexterity & problem solving
I love seeing them figure out how to do things like pick up a fiddly ingredient in their fingers, mix for the first time, squish & squash, or co-ordinate two hands to spoon & scrape sticky mixtures. All these things are great for developing motor skills.
I love seeing them having fun in the kitchen, creating something for everyone in the house to enjoy. I used to banish my toddler from the kitchen when I was trying to cook and it never went down well. Then I learnt that it was actually easier and more fun to do it together, even if she was only mucking around with some pots & pans on the floor.
4. Appreciating others
Nearly all the children that came to bake who were talking, spoke about which cakes they were going to give to who: Mummy, Daddy, Granny, Grandpa, teacher, brothers or sisters. It was lovely to hear how happy they were to be doing something for somebody else.
5. Exploring food
When they heard that we were baking banana & choc chips cakes, a few of the Mums said they weren't sure if their child would eat banana. One wasn't sure if he'd even touch it. Everyone single one of the banana-haters not only touched and mashed the banana, but they also all enjoyed eating the cakes. I love seeing children discover food in the context of cooking. When it's part of a fun activity, they seem more likely to push their food boundaries. I've written before about using cooking to get children to eat better and I loved seeing that happen with children other than my own.
My absolute favourite thing about cooking with young children is the look of pride on their faces when they realise they can cook something (largely) on their own. I've said it before and I'll say it again, pick an easy, achieve-able recipe that you can let them do with minimal help. It doesn't matter if if comes out a bit wonky; they won't care; they'll be too busy being proud of doing it themselves.
Yes, I know cooking with tiny children doesn't always go to plan. Yes, there is mess (but actually never as much as you'd think). And yes, it's easy to get stressed. But, if you pick a good time, use an age-appropriate recipe, prepare everything and then let go, it's great quality, fun time while also getting food on the table. Not convinced? Take a look at this lot:
When can you start cooking with a toddler?
This came up quite a bit during our Bake For Heroes as people weren't sure whether to bring their very young toddlers along or not. It's a hard question to answer because they are all so different. They need to be standing steadily and able to understand basic instructions like "put that in there." Then it's case-by-case. Out of the 6 teeny, tiny chefs (13 to 16 months) who came along: 1 was visibly anxious and not up for it (important not to push it). 4 were able to do pretty much everything except for putting the batter into the cases and really enjoyed it. And 1 wasn't too bothered about following the steps and just wanted to touch and explore everything, which is exactly what you'd want. NB. the recipe intentionally didn't have anything like raw egg that could be harmful if eaten by a toddler so they were free to get their hands in and taste as they went along - definitely something to consider if cooking with a very young child.
Top tips for having fun cooking with toddlers
1. Keep it short & simple.
3. Don't push it.
4. Let them do it.
We had so much fantastic support for our Bake For Heroes, which really added to the fun.
Thank you Kitchen Craft for providing some brilliant children's cooking tools and more. The little chefs loved the Molly Masher, Lil' Tee Spoon and Let's Make Measuring Cup & Spoon set. Full review here. I've added them to the Tickle Fingers list of great products to use for cooking with children.
Thank you Vibrant Home for providing spatulas and mixing bowls. The mini spatulas were a great size and everyone commented on how perfect the mixing bowls are for children. Full review here. I've added them to our list of great products to use for cooking with children.
Thank you Smocks For Tots for making us aprons at cost price so we could donate the profit to Help For Heroes. As you can see from the pictures, the little chefs looked just the part.
Thank you Andiamo Language Services for donating the mountain of ingredients.
Thank you to the wonderful world of parent bloggers who did a great job spreading the word and writing supportive posts, comments and tweets. Special thanks to What Katy Said, Shannonagains, Free From Farmhouse, Baked Potato Mummy, Tiddler Tales, Let Kids Be Kids, Mum M & More, Shutterflies, LaraBee and 3 Princesses & 1 Dude for joining the Bake. Check them out for recipes, fun activities and other stuff about parenting.
Thank you so much everyone who joined in, baking with us, baking at home (or even in a caravan on holiday) and buying raffle tickets.
Sorry this is turning into an oscar speech but I do just want say a special thank you so those friends and family who looked after my children, did extra school runs, washed-up and generally enabled me to do this.
And the very best bit is that all these fab little chefs raised £725 for Help For Heroes with a couple more donations still to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you.