Will: This side’s yours and this side’s mine.
Marty: Okay. What’s—
Will: You can’t eat my side.
Luci: Tell Daddy the ingredients that we put on here. Wait, wait, let me see your finger. Hold on. I think you’ve got tomato on there. Tomato-finger! (Wipes Will’s hand.) Before we stick it back in the cheese. There you go.
Luci: Chef William, tell Daddy the ingredients we put on the pizza for you guys.
Marty: What all is on there?
Will: I did—some but I, and I—
Luci: Oh, yeah. Do you have enough cheese on there, you think?
Will: Uh, no.
Luci: (Laughing) I think so.
Will: I don’t think so. I want more, though.
Luci: Just one more little bit, but maybe put it over here. (Will adds cheese to pizza.) Or maybe right there, that’s— (She removes the cheese package.)
Marty: So what all is on the pizza, Wills?
Will: Tomatoes. Olives. Olives for, for me, and— (Pauses.)
Luci: What is Daddy’s special ingredient? Your special ingredient is tomatoes, right?
Luci: I mean, olives.
Will: And Dad’s special ingredient is tomatoes. For YOU! (Points.)
Marty: For me?
Will: Yeah. And us three.
Luci: Okay. So you can sneak an olive. Mommy’s gonna make up the other pizza.
Will takes several olive slices very quickly.
Luci: Okay, that’s enough sneaking (removes dish of olives). Thank you. Got to save a few for later. All right. And then we’ll be ready to go.
Will: Put one on top of the cheese (picks up tomato slice).
Marty: Oh, that’s a good idea. Put one on top of it.
Luci: Well, I don’t know. Daddy, do you want one on top like that?
Marty: Sure, that’d be great.
Luci: That’s enough. We’re gonna save the rest for the other pizza.
Marty: Perfect. Thanks, Willie.
This video clip shows 3-year-old Will and his mother, Luci, making pizza for the family’s dinner. His father, Marty, talks with them while they prepare the food.
Preparing meals is part of the “real work” of family life. Preschoolers can help their parents fix simple foods. The whole family can benefit when parents involve preschoolers in cooking activities. Doing this kind of “real work” together gives family members something meaningful to talk about. It also gives children a chance to learn life skills by watching and listening to real “experts” on family life—their parents. Working together also helps members of a family to feel connected to each other. (For example, in this video clip, Will refers to “us three”—his father and mother and himself—showing his sense of being part of a unit, his family.)
You can see several ways parents can make cooking with preschoolers a positive time for the family.
- Prepare with Care. A child may lose interest in cooking if he has to wait too long to do his part. To help a child stay engaged, it’s a good idea for the parent to plan ahead so that all of the ingredients, pans, etc., are ready and easy to reach when the activity begins. It may be best for parents to cut any items that need to be sliced ahead of time. For example, Luci and Marty prepared in several ways for making pizza with Will. (These preparations are not shown in the video.) They prepared the crust and cheese and then sliced olives and tomatoes. They put all of the ingredients and materials on the counter workspace. They set up a stool so that Will could stand safely at the counter. They let Will choose clean clothing to cover his regular clothes while cooking. They also had him wash his hands before touching the food—an essential part of getting ready to cook.
- Start with Simple Tasks. Younger preschoolers are likely to enjoy tasks that involve some muscle coordination but not too much attention to detail—pouring, stirring, sprinkling, spreading, kneading, etc. Older preschoolers may try jobs that involve more complex actions such as cutting, measuring, or setting timers. Luci and Marty have given 3-year-old Will some very basic tasks that he enjoys—placing olives and tomatoes on the pizza crust and putting cheese on top.
- Talk with the Child. Talking with children during family cooking activities helps to build their oral language skills. Talking does not mean only giving directions or asking a child questions. In this video clip, Luci and Marty invite Will to talk about what he is doing. They use some words that are related to cooking, such as “chef” and “ingredients.” They respond to his comments and actions (for example, when he says that he wants to add more cheese and when he puts a tomato slice on top of the cheese).
- Tell the Child What’s Going On. Children like to know what to expect, and what the adults expect of them. Before the events shown in this clip, Luci told Will that one “side” of the pizza would be for him, with toppings he likes. The other side would be for his dad. Will explains this in his own way to Marty in the opening moments of the clip. Moments later, Luci notices that Will has tomato sauce on the hand he is about to put into the bag of grated cheese. She tells him to wait, gently takes his hand, and explains why she is wiping his hand, using the humorous term “Tomato-finger.” Later, Luci moves the completed pizza aside, telling Will that she is going to make the other pizza. She also briefly reminds Will that they need the rest of the tomato slices for the other pizza, to explain why she does not want him to add more to his pizza.
- Set Limits but Choose “Battles” Wisely. It is often important for children to follow an adult’s directions when cooking. At the same time, scolding and power struggles can take the enjoyment out of a family cooking experience. This clip shows some times when the parents set and reinforce limits without scolding or arguing with Will. Luci and her son disagree about whether or not the pizza has enough cheese. She thinks that they have added enough cheese, and he says he wants to add more. Then, noticing some spots on the pizza that have no cheese, she gives Will a chance to add “just one more little bit” of cheese to those spots, which she points out to him. She then puts the bag aside. Later, Will takes several olives very quickly after Luci states that he may “sneak an olive.” Rather than scold him, Luci moves the olive dish out of his reach, commenting that they will “save some for later.”
- Model Cooperative Behavior. When family members work together, parents have a chance to say and do things that help children understand simple ways to get along well with others. For example, when Will adds a slice of tomato to one side of the pizza, Marty encourages him, saying, “That’s a good idea.” At the same time, Luci models concern for other people’s likes and dislikes: Will has added the slice to Marty’s side of the pizza, so Luci asks Marty, “Do you want one on top like that?” Marty says that he does. As the clip ends, Marty shows appreciation for Will’s work on the pizza by thanking him.