While access to snacks is an important part of self-regulating appetite, lots more can be done to make the kitchen kid-friendly, with a little careful preparation. Just imagine if children could be exposed to the whole cycle of activity, from growing food, preparing and cooking it, and finally cleaning up!
We have a small eat-in corner in the kitchen. (We’ve since changed this table to a larger but still child-sized table as you’ll see toward the end.) I sold our dining table and chairs so we sit around the kids’ table for meals. This isn’t to everybody’s taste, and it certainly wouldn’t be practical for pregnant ladies or elderly visitors, but we somehow just got used to squatting at a kids’ table for meals since London. There is low art, fresh flowers, small glass pitcher and glasses, and a fruit basket as my son likes to take his chopping board and knife and cut fruit for us almost nightly. I believe the kitchen is the heart of the home, and while my living room is extremely neutral (to let the materials on the shelves stand out), I prefer my kitchen to be bright, homely, and cheerful.
The other side of the breakfast counter holds our supplies like soaps, toilet paper, kitchen rolls, etc. When groceries are delivered, the kids help us carry them to the breakfast counter and take them out of the packaging. We are doing our best to cut down on disposable items like these, so we mainly use cloths for cleaning.
An IKEA kitchen stool that I painted and polished with beeswax is indispensable not just for the kids to wash dishes and and cook, but also for me to get to the upper cabinets. The children use this oilcloth apron below when washing dishes, to avoid getting their shirts wet. I realised I was resistant to having them wash and mop because of spillage, so commissioning this apron partially helped me get over my own hesitation. With practice, they’ve been using this apron less and less, but their shirts (and our floor) still remain quite dry.
This dead space next to our dishwasher houses a trolley of more cleaning supplies like our microfibre cloths and floor towels, and a child-sized mop and bucket. The reusable cloth items are in open storage to encourage use, whereas the disposable paper items are in closed storage to minimise use.
I plant or grow one or two herbs at a time in the silver pot because that’s all I can manage. Haha. We’ve tried our hands at basil, dill, chives, spring onions, rosemary, peppermint and pandan. Even living in a flat without a garden, it deepens the culinary experience when they can pick out herbs and vegetables that they have grown and serve it for dinner.
Almost all the lower drawers are prepared with the aim of giving kids independence in the kitchen. I situated my spice drawer next to the stove for cooking convenience. The children helped me sort and label all the glass bottles.
The drawer below the spices holds child-sized oven mitts and matching adult and child alpaca aprons with actual pockets that boho grandma bought for us.
This drawer, the widest in my kitchen, holds the children’s dinnerware on the left and food prep tools on the right. You don’t have to buy things that are marketed as being for children (those typically are too blunt to be effective). The only things here that are specially designed for children are the WMF cutlery and training chopsticks. But otherwise, I’ve built up the collection by looking for adult items which are shorter to chunkier (easier to grip) to support the tripod grasp, like the egg masher. Even my relatives have embraced the idea and started gifting mini tools instead of toys! For example, my cousin got us the lidded silver bowls when she was studying in Korea.
Currently, the most oft-used items are the knives, because the children help me prep food or cut fruits for dessert almost daily. The triangular silicon packets, which are for making onigiri (rice balls), are also useful.
This shelf holds our daily crockery so the children can help set the table with our red enamel bowl/ plates (blates?) and also the sage green Bruno hotplate so we can cook as we eat.
The baking drawer with child-sized tools. The whisk (£1 from Tiger in London) is a favourite as are the edible food markers.
Our tea drawer so the children can serve our guests tea or make loose leaf tea for themselves. All tea-making accoutrements, like the teapot, infusers and honey are in this drawer so it’s a one-stop tea station. To make the drawer feel more special, I’ve lined it with a quilted fabric mat.
I used to give my babies access to a single pot drawer in the kitchen, mainly for sensory exploration e.g. banging on pots never gets old. I have gradually expanded their access as their capacity and responsibility grow. I have decluttered to two pots (my four pans are in a separate drawer) and one very battered rice cooker with steamer tray. The lids are in the file holder. Similar to how I group the tea-related items in one drawer, the rice ladle and measuring cup are here with the rice cooker. This also reinforces the children’s sense of order as they can retrieve all related items from one spot.
Our fridge. Cold water in a small carafe that has a cinched neck for children to grip, because the large Ikea glass bottles are too heavy for E to carry.
We have mostly eliminated snacks this year, but we still keep a snack tray for the kids in the fridge which they can access anytime. Usually it’s only once every few days that they might reach for it. The other fridge trays are clear plastic but the kids’ one is color-coded opaque. When they were toddlers, I decanted nuts, oats and raisins into jam jars as they were the perfect tiny size for portion control for frequent grazers. Now that they are older and better able to self-regulate their appetite, I put whole punnets of berries, packets of blissballs, etc.
Nuts tend to go rancid in this weather, so leaving them out at room temp is not ideal. Another option is to keep a container with separate compartments in the fridge for the children, like those divided snack containers some households use at Chinese New Year:
I checked that the children were tall enough to reach the dish and cutlery drainer above the sink, and I switched to this swan neck tap so the water could reach them too. I also have cut down a walnut sponge to 1/3 the size, for them to wash dishes with.
The children wash their bowls after each meal. (Although we have a dishwasher, all of us handwash our own bowls and cutlery then load the dishwasher with the rest.) They also sweep, wipe the table and floor with a sponge cloth and homemade white vinegar spray, but we have been pushing bedtimes earlier recently so that has been inconsistent until we find our rhythm again.
Some benefits of making the kitchen a welcoming space for children
1. Opportunities for authentic language acquisition (can you dice the capsicum? slice the red radishes? julienne the zucchini?)
2. Refinement of their senses, for example knowing that they have coated the kale throughly with oil when the leaves are vivid green (right half of tray).
3. Getting to observe the process of transformation- how things grow in our herb garden (or why they failed to grow!) and when making kombucha
4. And perhaps most importantly, feeling like a contributing, valued member of the family, whose parents trust them to do things that we ourselves do, like cooking over fire, and handling knives.
Today Dylan told our guests proudly, “in our house we all have to wash our own bowls” and off he went to the kitchen sink.
Food is an important part of the kitchen experience for children, but there’s also so much more that they can do, like serving others, cleaning, washing and planting.
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