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!

Travel Recipes, Part 1: Instant Rasam Powder

If your toddler is anything like mine, chances are that travel plans send you in a frenzy of packing food. Did I say travel plans? I meant pretty much any plan that involves taking more than 100 feet outside your home. Like a switch had been turned on, A developed the typical picky toddler characteristics a week before she turned one. We have a vacation to Hawaii coming up, and I’m busy planning out her meals. In the next series, I’ll be sharing with you a bunch of travel-friendly recipes that you can prepare in advance and then use a microwave at your destination for final boiling / cooking, etc.

On a good day, my daughter is happy with a simple meal of rice-dal-rasam and veggies, finished with a bowl of yogurt. On a bad day, of course, she’ll eat anything between nothing and a handful of goldfish crackers. But when I travel, the optimist in me would like to aim at one balanced meal a day, and I believe firmly in a balanced meal of rice (starch), dal / steamed lentils (protein), rasam (spices which aid greatly in digestion), veggies and yogurt (dairy) form the perfect meal.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with an easy instant rasam / saar mix, which you can just mix with water and bring to a boil, and voila! Rasam on the go!

Ingredients:

dhaniya / coriander seeds – 1/4 cup
whole red chilli – 1/2 cup
whole black pepper – 1 tsp
jeera / cumin seeds – 1 tsp
mustard seeds –  1/4 tsp
fenugreek seeds -1/4 tsp
toor dal / split pigeon pea – 1/2 cup
tamarind – key lime size ball or 1 tbsp

For tempering:
ghee – 1 tbsp
asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
mustard seeds: 1 tsp
cumin seeds: 1 tsp

Method:

  1. Roast the toor dal separately.
  2. Roast all the other ingredients together.
  3. Once all ingredients have cooled, grind them together to a fine powder
  4. Heat ghee. Once ghee is hot, add mustard seeds. Allow them to crackle, and then add cumin seeds and asafeotida.
  5. Mix tempering with rasam powder
  6. When you want to prepare the rasam, mix 1 cup water, 1 tsp rasam powder (or to taste), 1 finely chopped tomato, salt to taste and bring to a boil.
  7. Your rasam is ready! Serve with hot rice.