I love homemade snacks (when I have time/energy to make them) because I know exactly what’s in them. Sweet potato chips are currently a particular favourite for me because of being on a pretty restrictive migraine elimination diet.
All you need are: sweet potatoes.
Give them a scrub (or peel them). My kids like helping with this bit.
Slice them thin.
Lay them individually on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Make sure they aren’t overlapping. Mine always need a bit of rearranging after my helpers have finished.
You can add any other optional ingredients now: a spray of olive oil, a bit of salt and black pepper, herbs like thyme or rosemary are all good options.
Put them in a preheated oven at around 190 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes. Turn once during baking and keep in mind that the time might vary depending on your oven and how thin you sliced the potatoes. They should come out lightly browned.
Leave out to cool and harden.
We’ve also tried this with Irish potatoes which worked well; carrots, which came out too crisped without olive oil and not at all crispy but very yummy with oil – I think maybe I’m just missing the balance so far; and bananas which have failed miserably no matter what I do!
Living in South Korea we eat a lot of rice. In fact, my kids have phases where just about all they seem to want to eat is rice and 김 (gim – Korean dried seaweed, very similar to nori) – breakfast, lunch, dinner.
They also both love to help preparing it for cooking. Elly will often find the rice cooker and ask to ‘cooh-cooh’ (cook cook), even when he has just eaten, or there is rice waiting for him on the table.
First they help to measure cups of rice into the rice pan. I normally scoop it out of the sack and let them tip and count it in as letting them try to scoop normally results in a) rice everywhere and b) an completely unknown quantity of rice in the rice pan.
Then they help me wash the rice. Zeph likes to turn the tap on and off to cover the rice. But the favourite bit for both of them is definitely getting to put their hands in the water and play with it. Or eat it, if your name is Elly. We often use this opportunity to talk about ‘transparent/see through’ and ‘opaque/cloudy’ as we watch the starch wash out and change the water. Next it’s back to counting cups – as we add water this time.
Last but not least one of them takes a turn to flick on the switch on the rice cooker. Or we turn it on and off a few times so they both get to do it.
Both my boys love chopping food up (…and generally being destructive…) What they, or Zèph at least, produces is always filled with love and pride at contributing to the family. But hard foods are difficult to chop and can be dangerous for little fingers which might slip. And little fingers also produce highly irregular chopped goods – which is sometimes fine and sometimes makes cooking awkward. So my kids both get to do chopping practice.
This is a food prep activity which they find lots of fun, can contribute towards family meals or snacks and gets them working in their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
For Elly, at 20 months I choose very soft foods such as banana and boiled eggs – this can make a mess. I recommend removing he yolk and just giving the white part to avoid the worst of this – and he loves getting stuck in with his knife. And eating bits on the way.
At 4 Zeph still has fun with this and I can challenge him to try to cut regular sized circles, semi-circles or chunks. He also gets opportunities to do slightly harder chopping tasks: courgette, grape tomatoes, cucumber etc. as well as pre-sliced hard vegetables such as carrot and potato.
Zeph also gets to peel vegetables, though Elly does not. The first time, a few months ago now, he tried a carrot and got very upset that he couldn’t do it. But he has since, at his own request, tried again. And again. And again. And now he does a fairly good job minus the bits closest to the ends. Potatoes are harder – his first try he scrapped off one little patch of peel before getting frustrated and wandering off, but more recent attempts he’s managed more.
My kids made salad tonight, mostly leaving me just to supervise. I did wash the foods before giving them to the boys, although I could, and probably should, have let them do it themselves: they both like taking things out of the fridge and they both love playing with water; moreover, it’s good practice and learning for them. But… I… was kinda tired and just didn’t think about it this time until it was too late. So the kids got given their salad ready to cut.
Zeph has been using sharp knives for at least a year now, and started cutting things around 16 months with a blunt dinner knife. He has a pretty good idea of what he’s doing, but we always start with a little chat about knife safety (holding the handle firmly, always pointing the blade down and away from you, always cutting on a board and never into your hand, never waving it around, putting it down carefully when you are not using it, keeping your fingers away from the blade when cutting) and I always supervise carefully.
Elly has also been trying to cut with a blunt knife for three or four months now. He’s adept at slicing banana, but these foods are harder so he preferred to pull the bell pepper apart with his fingers. He also wanted to take a turn with a sharp knife, so we held it together to cut a few pieces.
We took some time to identify the seeds inside each food and to compare their size and whether or not we eat them. And after cutting, tipping and mixing, the boys ended up with this:
Zeph didn’t say it in so many words, but I got the feeling he was really proud to have made salad for dinner virtually by himself. He was very enthusiastic about serving it to Daddy and I with salad dressing, and making sure that we enjoyed it all!
My boys love to help in the kitchen and I love to make as many opportunities for them to do it as I can. While it’s not always entirely convenient, while it can double (triple, maybe even quadruple) the workload, it’s a great way for them to explore and learn about food and cooking. I also think it’s a great way for them to contribute to the wellbeing of the household in a meaningful way.
Today we looked at pomegranates because Mummy was planning pomegranate and mackerel Bulgar wheat (recipe included at the end of the post because it’s amazing, quick and very simple. Elly agrees, though Zeph and Josh do not). First we looked at the outside and talked about how to cut them. Zeph noticed how the juice started to leak out as I cut, and then they got a piece each to look at and explore the inside of.
Zeph was perfectly certain that he didn’t want to try tasting pomegranate, and quickly noticed that touching the fruit was causing a cut on his finger to sting. He decided that he’d had quite enough after about 30 seconds! But this time round Elly spent longer on the activity: he happily poked, pulled and waved it around, ate some, wiped sticky juicy fingers all over his vest and then tried to run away before being cleaned. So all in all I judge that to be a half-successful activity.
To make pomegranate and mackerel bulgar wheat
Bulgar wheat (approx. 75g per person, or substitute with couscous)
Pomegranate (remove the arils from the rind and membrane so you’re just left with the red bits. I use 2-3 tablespoons per person, but it’s really to taste)
Tinned mackerel (1 tin per approx 4 servings)
Salsa to serve (optional)
Cook Bulgar wheat as per instructions on the packet (or just wash and boil until tender).
Add pomegranate, mackerel and olives.
Mix with mayonnaise.
Serve alone or with salsa.