We’ve learned a great deal together since we made our first pizza together, and I hope these little “rules” will help you enjoy your time creating memories and (hopefully) edible food with your child or children.
First and foremost, please remember that nothing applies to Murphy’s Law better than cooking with small children. In effect, it states:
If there's more than one way to do something, and one of those ways will end in total disaster, someone will do it that way.
The rest of these rules fall under the ever-applicable Murphy’s Law umbrella:
1) Assess your willingness to face chaos. Before you begin a project, remember the purpose is to spend enjoyable, memorable time with your child. It is not to create a culinary masterpiece, or to prove to yourself that you are worth your weight as a parent. Involving children in the cooking/baking process is not for everyone, or for every day. If dinner should already be on the table, you have one egg when you thought you had a dozen, and your children, and picturing your child covered in a self-inflicted flour/water paste and the baby with peanut butter in her hair makes you sick to your stomach, seriously consider throwing grilled cheese sandwiches tonight and try again for making memories tomorrow.
2) Stay safe. This is a great time to talk to your child about colors, food names, counting, fractions (e.g. 1/2 cup), and turn-taking, but make sure you also talk about and practice food safety. Be sure to help your child wash their hands immediatelyafter handling raw eggs or anything else that could make them sick if ingested; hold their hands together as you carry or lead them to the sink if you have to. I don’t recommend allowing little ones to handle raw meat (it looks and smells ready to eat to them), and again, don’t let them crack the eggs if you don’t have it in you to carry them to the sink as soon as they finish. Talk to them about why hand-washing is such an important part of making safe, yummy food.
3) Don’t measure salt over the bowl. If your child bumps either arm or hand while you are measuring potentially menu-changing ingredients like salt, baking powder, baking soda, or cayenne pepper, the whole experience will be ruined as quickly as the recipe is. Spare yourselves the drama and measure over the table. Also never leave your child unattended with any of these ingredients for any length of time. Get it out, measure it, have them put it in, and put it back.
4) Keep it simple. It will take you 2-5 times longer to make anything with your child’s help than it would if you made it by yourself (baby-gated into the kitchen in my case). I’d save your great-grandmother’s dinner rolL recipe until they’re at least school-aged. Pasta, pumpkin pie (with a store-bought crust), pizza, waffles, and cookies are better masterpieces to start with.
5) Reserve the right to decide when your child’s role ends. One of the first things to learn when learning to ride a bike is when and how to put on the brakes. I remember a time when I had asked my son not to stir more until I came back (probably from putting salt back in the cupboard) and then turned back around only a moment later to find a half-cup’s work of flour all over the table and floor. I felt my blood pressure rise and decided to take a deep breath and put on the brakes: I asked you not to stir until I could help you but you did anyway and now there is a big mess. That was not a good choice. Now Mommy will finish by herself. Maybe you can try to help me again tomorrow. Done. Everyone has a limit, and that’s o.k. Better to stop and make it a learning experience than try to muddle through and lose it completely in another five minutes.
6) If you can’t eat it but everyone had fun, the experience was not wasted. Above all, enjoy each other! I, for one, have ruined many recipes without my son’s assistance, so I know that as long as something positive is learned, it can be counted as a success.