We do a lot of cooking around here. S and I both really enjoy cooking and the children really enjoy eating! Actually they enjoy cooking too and most of them have been “helping” in the kitchen since they were old enough to sit in the high-chair and watch/ get bits of things to taste.
Since we cook “from scratch” every night (unless there are leftovers), we’ve developed a little list of things that we keep around to use when preparing meals in a hurry or stretching meals for unexpected company.
A pound of cooked beans. Most weekends we cook a pound of some dry bean (favorites vary by season, in the fall and winter we eat a lot of kidneys, adzuki, and great northern or navy beans). We just bring a bag of beans to a boil, turn them off and let them sit covered for several hours then cook to the desired firmness. We add a little bit of either vinegar or lemon juice (stops the cooking process so they don’t get mushy when added to a dish later) then pour them into canning jars while piping hot. The lids will “seal” enough to keep in the fridge for a week, by which time we’ve usually used them up.
Frozen pureed eggplant. I’ve mentioned this before but eggplant is one of our staples. We use it anytime we want to make a dish that is either meat-free or lower fat without losing the lusciousness of the mouth feel of meat and/or fat. For instance- I will make spaghetti sauce using pureed eggplant and Italian sausage spices, and most people will have no idea that there is no meat in the sauce! We make this in the summer and freeze it for later use.
Pre-sauteed onions and garlic. This is one we don’t do unless we are anticipating a really busy week. Many of our recipes begin with “Saute a large onion and several cloves of garlic until golden”. This is time consuming, so on weeks when I know we will be doing a lot of running around, we’ll chop and saute enough onions and garlic for several meals. Just keep it in the fridge and start the recipe from the point of having done the sauteing- you’ll cut 20-30 minutes off of your prep-time!
The other thing we do is utilize our kitchen helpers. Even preschoolers can do the following with some training and supervision:
Peel carrots, garlic cloves, onions, potatoes. Small children do things they can do with their fingers (garlic and onions), bigger children get to use a peeler and do carrots and potatoes.
Tear up lettuce and other greens for salad- almost any age child can do this if they have the finger strength. Its a good exercise for developing hand and finger muscles.
Cut up bread into cubes for croutons or stuffing/dressing.
Use a sharp knife (with supervision) to cut up potatoes, mushrooms etc. Let them start with a serrated knife as it is harder to cut oneself with a knife you have to saw with. Teach good knife skills and enforce respect for sharp things. Practice really helps with this one.
Help with the washing up. Clear the dishwasher and drainer, clear and wipe the table, even wash a few dishes. All of those things can be immensely helpful and are good training for the day they want to cook all by themselves!
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