Baking / Cooking: A well-rounded learning activity!

Food has always been a big issue with my toddler. For as long as I can remember, mealtime has been a lottery, not knowing whether she would eat or not. I tried a variety of flavors, offered them in colorful utensils, even made her rotis in fun shapes and colors – nothing worked. One day, instead of giving her toy utensils and water to play with, I decided to give her idly* batter and an idly mold and asked her to pour the batter into the mold. While we had a small mess on our hands, we achieved two things with this exercise: we had a great activity to develop fine motor skills, and of course, the child was so proud that she had helped to make the food that she couldn’t resist eating it!

Since then, I’ve loved having her stand on a ladder and assist while I cook. The rule I have set is that she isn’t allowed near heat (stove, oven) or knives but other than that, she’s good to go! She loves adding ingredients like salt/sugar/flour, stirring, mixing, pouring things and more. We often spend the afternoons baking cookies together, which is a great activity for a toddler as she can do everything except get the baking tray in and out of the oven. I usually measure out ingredients into small bowls and give her the ingredients and a large mixing bowl, and she loves it! In keeping up with the “I did it!” goal, she is very proud to share her creations with her family and friends!

I decided to take the activity one step further. Instead of measuring out ingredients and leaving them out for her, I decided to take a simple recipe and convert it to a form that she could read. While A can read simple words and count, obviously she  can’t do fractions like “1 1/2 cup” or understand the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Instead of using a standard one cup measure, I used a quarter cup measure which would be easy for her small hands to handle. Instead of using the words teaspoon and tablespoon, I used a set of colorful measuring spoons I had and the recipe called for “1 green spoon” and so on. This way, she had only one variable to deal with – the number of spoons /cups to add, and identifying a spoon / cup by their color was definitely a simpler task than identifying them by their measure!

This sounds really confusing, but it was actually very simple. Here’s a sample recipe that I converted. We decided to try cheese muffins today, as it seemed to be a fairly simple recipe with minimal ingredients and not to mention, A’s favorite ingredients. Here’s the original recipe. I have halved the recipe and converted it to a language that A could understand. Here you go:

Cheese Muffins Recipe**:
3 cups flour
1 green spoon sugar
1 green spoon baking powder
1 red spoon salt
6 cups shredded cheese
2 cup milk
1 egg
1 cup melted butter

Method:
1. Ask Mom to preheat your oven to 375F.
2. Put muffin liners in your muffin tray.
3. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.
4. Add 2 blue spoons of the batter to each muffin liner.
5. Ask Mom to put the muffin tray in the oven.
6. Wait for 30 minutes. When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything!
7. Ask Mom to take the tray out of the oven.
8. Eat your muffins!

A’s measurements vs. Actual measurements:
1 cup = 1/4 cup
1 blue spoon = 1 tbsp
1 green spoon = 1/2 tbsp
1 red spoon = 1/4 tsp

I’ll also suggest that you personalize your recipe. For example, my daughter calls me “Mimi” and my recipe had Mimi instead of Mom, or of course replace with the name of the caregiver at the time – Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Big Sister etc.  Customize the recipe to the measuring cups and spoons you have at hand. I also had the recipe written out on a sheet of paper, which was affixed to the refrigerator at A’s eye level, making it easy for her to refer to whenever she wanted.

This activity teaches skills on so many levels! Oh, where do I even begin! At the very least, your child is working hard to read the recipe and the fact that they are excited to get to baking / eating means that they are further enthused to read! If your child doesn’t read yet, supplement the text with an image of a green/red/blue spoon, and then read the recipe out loud with your child. Math skills also improve as they measure ingredients. Not to mention that the chemical reactions causing the muffins to rise is a wonderful chemistry experiment. Above all, they are developing an invaluable life skill!

So no matter what your reason – whether you have a picky eater, a bored child on summer vacation, or just a craving for a homemade snack – do give this activity a try with your kids. Let me know what recipes you try out, and do share your customizations to make your recipe kid-friendly!

 

*Idly is a dish from Southern India wherein a fermented batter made of rice and black lentils is steamed in a special mold. It’s an extremely healthy dish loved by children and adults alike.

**Disclaimer: This post is a guideline to a method, and not a recipe post. The objective of this post was not to share the recipe for muffins with you, but to share with you my way of implementing a learning activity with my daughter. Apply this method to any recipe you’d like to try out with your kids!

Project Toddler Travel Food

Well, we finally did it – our first family vacation! We spend 2 weeks on the Big Island, Hawaii. We had a truly memorable time, what with A learning to walk and talk! We also visited a bunch of cool places, including a black sand beach, a garden that was modeled after the Milky Way galaxy, an astronomy center from where we could view the Milky Way, and a live volcano! All very unique experiences that need a separate photo essay to do any justice in sharing.

Of course, this kind of travel requires a LOT of planning with a toddler. In fact, it took me nearly a month to put together everything food-related A needed for the trip! Of course, one must keep in mind that my working hours are restricted to A’s sleep time, if I’m lucky, especially during the cold months when her outdoor activities are restricted. Not to mention, Hawaii didn’t have the same availability of groceries and food that we are lucky access in Sunnyvale, and we found out that even Amazon Prime took 3-7 days and hefty shipping fee to deliver. So of course, I had to be very, very organized with this project. I chose to break down the Project Toddler Travel Food into phases, and the instructional designer in me went back to good ol’ ADDIE. While the ADDIE Model is traditionally used in Instructional System Design, it can also be applied to generic processes to have a more systematic approach. Anyway, this is my belief.

So here goes, the 5 Phases of Project Toddler Travel Food:

Analysis:
A quick analysis of my toddler’s needs and our constraints led me to the following conclusions:
1. A’s basic diet consists of rasam/dal/rice + steamed veg for her lunches/dinners and idlies and dosas for her breakfasts.
2. I would have access to a full kitchen during the first week of our trip (we had booked an AirBnB), while during the second week we would be staying at a resort where I would possibly get a microwave depending on availability.
3. I couldn’t carry a ton of food and utensils due to luggage constraints.

Design:
Based on the constraints, I divided up the packing list for this project into three, the food to pack, the utensils, and the food to buy there. Here goes:

Food to take:

  1. Mung dal: Cooks way faster in an electric rice cooker than toor dal, healthy as well.
  2. Rice: Just enough for the travel day, we bought rice there too.
  3. Methkoot: a Marathi preparation, a powder consisting of roasted lentils and fenugreek. To be mixed with rice with salt and oil, or butter in this case since that is what we bought. Known as Menthya Hittu in Kannada.
  4. Vangibath powder: A preparation of roasted and powdered spices, lentils and dry coconut which is mixed with rice and vegetables to create a yummy rice dish. I carried this to mix with rice, butter and frozen vegetables bought there.
    Instant Rasam Powder: A must for me as rasam rice is my daughter’s staple food. Here is a recipe that I developed, tested and got A’s approval on weeks before our trip.
  5. Chutney podi: To be had with idlies or dosas
  6. Instant Dosa Powder: I used a recipe from the trusty Hebbar’s Kitchen for this with success. The AirBnB we were staying at provided a non-stick frying pan and spatulas which I used to make dosas.
  7. Instant Oats Idly Mix: Again, I’ve got a recipe on my blog right here.
  8. Instant Rava Idly/upma Mix: I can get a full recipe up on this site soon but for now, all you gotta do is make the exact same recipe as the oats idly mix, but replace all the oat flour with semolina and rava. This can be used to make quick upma too!
  9. Dhaniya jeera powder: Roasted cumin and coriander seed powder. This is A’s favorite seasoning for steamed vegetables.
  10. Eno fruit salt: I needed this to make the instant idlies and dosas, but can be substituted with baking soda in a pinch
  11. Lime juice concentrate: I used this to give my idlies and dosas the tang that typically comes from fermentation.

Utensils to take:

  1. Electric rice cooker: I have this one, small and handy.
  2. Microwave idly plates: I have something similar to this.
  3. A’s bowls with lids: I have this, convenient for travel and especially when there are no high chairs.
  4. A’s spoons, bibs and sippy cups
  5. Disposable boxes: These were useful to transport food from the AirBnB to the resort. As I wasn’t sure about the availability of a microwave at the resort, I prepared rasam and steamed veggies for A at the AirBnB and transported them to the resort. I chose to use disposable boxes so that I could leave them behind and free up luggage space on the way back.

Shopping list:

  1. Essentials: Salt / butter / milk / yoghurt / seasoning items (pepper/chilli flakes)
  2. Foods which are easy to make: Pasta + pasta sauce, Bread + eggs
  3. Frozen: Frozen meals / Frozen vegetables
  4. Perishables: Vegetables and fruits

Development:

Next came making time to prepare the foods that I couldn’t buy, with links where applicable. These were:

  1. Instant rasam powder
  2. Instant oats idly mix
  3. Instant rava idly mix
  4. Instant dosa mix
  5. Mollaga podi (gun powder) or Chutney podi

Implementation:

  1. In order to cook comfortably while on a holiday, I strongly recommend booking an AirBnB with a full kitchen if that is an option at your destination. Our AirBnB had a full kitchen including a stove range, oven, microwave, toaster, coffee maker and dishwasher. In addition, we were provided with utensils such as pots and pans, plates and cutlery, coffee powder and sugar. If a full kitchen isn’t an option, a microwave would be a minimum requirement for me.
  2. It would also help to look up availability of groceries at your destination. We were fortunate enough to have a Safeway a few miles away, which allowed me to plan on buying pantry staples and some prepared foods as well.
  3. I also established a cooking schedule on Day 1, similar to the cooking schedule I follow at home. While this is certainly hard to do while on holiday, my baby was very happy to have her familiar foods away from home and anything that makes her happy is priceless! I must add that I could count the number of times A ate outside during our 2 week holiday on 1 hand, so everyday cooking proved to be essential.

Evaluation:

As with any project, evaluation is key if we want to travel with our picky toddler again. Food was the biggest challenge for A and she enjoyed everything else about traveling, so I really wanted to put together a travel kit for A’s food which could also serve as a template for future trips. Here are some things I felt I could improve:

  1. Utensils: While the AirBnB provided utensils, of course the resort didn’t provide any (duh!) which was something I had forgotten in my planning! We ended up using the disposable boxes, old take-out boxes, and a couple of plastic spoons and forks we’d gathered along the way. I still didn’t have any plates to eat from. Challenges which can be fixed next time by taking along a couple of plates, spoons and a microwave-able bowl.
  2. Seasoning items: I’d probably take along a couple of sachets of salt/pepper and some dried herbs and spices, since I didn’t have anything on the day we traveled and found it impossible to cook. It also seemed expensive to buy a full box of herbs/spices when all I needed was enough for a couple of weeks.

Well, that was Project Toddler Travel Food. I would say it turned out to be largely successful, especially because we also ate home-made food far more often than we have during our previous holidays. Food is such an important part of life, and a two week holiday would have been very difficult unless we planned this aspect well.

I hope this post was useful to you. Please modify as per your family’s needs and your travel destination. I can’t wait to hear your tips and tricks to help me improve this kit for next time!