4 Moms: Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity

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Welcome back to the weekly 4 Moms post, in which 4 moms with a collective total of 35 children share our knowledge, experience and and helpful tips in maintaining health, order and sanity.

This week we’re talking about cooking with little ones.  We don’t mean that in the same sense as when you cook with butter or onions.  At least that’s not how I understood it when we agreed on the subject.  Maybe you and I should visit the other 3 moms to make sure we’re all on the same page.

  • Connie at Smockity Frocks
  • Headmistress at The Common Room
  • Kimberly at Raising Olive
  • Oh, good.  Now that’s settled, let’s move on.

    I’ll just be upfront about something: I am a clean cook and a control freak.  God has used my children to soften some of my rough edges, but I have also learned to work within my boundaries.  When I cook with little ones, if we want to end the experience on a pleasant note and with happy memories, we have to follow a few ground rules.

    Really, just one rule goes a long, long way:  One helper at a time.  There are a few events and recipes which lend themselves well to multiple participants, but in general this works best for us.  The others can watch quietly, or they can wander off until I call them for their turn.  I cannot abide a free-for-all shouting/squealing/shoving match in my kitchen with 4 or 5 short people jockeying for the stool closest to the mixing bowl.  We all have more fun when we do it my way.

    See?  Isn’t she sweet and happy? Nobody has pushed her off the stool yet because I’m the only one in the kitchen with her.

    “I’m stirring it with a spoon, Mom.”

    The photographer insisted that we get the classic shot of big hand/little hand together on the spoon.

    The photographer specified it must be a wooden spoon.

    I’m actually not the only one in the kitchen, but you got the point didn’t you?  Besides Bethany, the photographer and me, we also have an eager young cook.  I don’t classify Becca with the little ones because she can cook on her own.  She was either dying to help Bethany, or to get in the photos.  She brushed her hair first, which seems like a good clue.

    Bethany helped with the dry ingredients, then it was Perry’s turn.  He specializes in cracking eggs.  Just look at the level of concentration he puts into his egg-cracking assignments.


    Now we’re stirring.  Look: intense.

    “Salt?  Salt is gross!  Why do you put salt in a cake?”

    Rachael came on board once the batter was mixed.

    She’s stirring too.  I think the photographer was distracted by this point, because there are no photos of Rachael cutting up butter, chopping nuts, or licking the spatula.

    She mixed up a streusel topping.  Not everything we do is fancy, but when you’re inviting 3 separate helpers for the same recipe, having several distinct steps can help preserve the peace.

    And here’s our streusel topped batter, ready to go in the oven.

    We forgot to take another photo when it came out, but we’ll be enjoying the fruits of our labor for breakfast.

    Want the recipe?

    Apple Streusel Cake

    • 3 cups flour
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 3 tsp. baking powder (we use 1 tsp baking soda plus a little vinegar in the milk)
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1 1/2 cups milk
    • 1/2 cup butter, melted
    • 2 tsp. vanilla
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 large can apple pie filling (we used a quart of homemade)

    Streusel topping:

    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
    • 2 Tbs. butter
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts

    Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add milk, butter, vanilla and eggs.  Mix thoroughly.  Spread half of batter in a buttered 9×13.  Carefully spoon on apple pie filling, spreading as evenly as possible.  Top with remaining batter.

    For topping, combine 1/4 cup flour, cinnamon and brown sugar.  Cut in butter, then stir in nuts.  Sprinkle over batter.

    Bake 45-60 minutes at 350.

    Did you notice that this post is mostly photos?  That’s the biggest point I want to make about cooking with little ones.  It’s not so much about what you make, as it is about working together and making memories.  If everyone is smiling in the end, it’s a job well done.  If it tastes good and your kitchen is clean, so much the better.

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms 35 Kids:

    • February 17 – Spending individual time with your children: isn’t the very topic enough to make you feel guilty?
    • February  24 – Q & A.  Got a question?  Leave it in the comments on my last Q&A post.  Or you can email me, but I promise you right now I will lose your email and forget to answer your question for 15 months.  By then, you probably will have found your own answer.


    1. This is so sweet!!! I love the inquiry as to why you were adding salt to the cake!!! Kids are so sweet!

    2. I also am a clean/control freak! (it’s good to know I’m not the only one!) Like an earlier post, my hubby also has no problem letting my three boys help him in the kitchen. They make waffles or pancakes together almost every Saturday. Spills, tumbles, and sometime burns (yikes) are all a part of it! I used to have to be in a different room so I wouldn’t jump in and interfere, but I am getting better about that! I am also getting better about letting them help me…I have plans to make a Valentine cake later today, and the idea about ONE at a time was a light bulb for me! (It seems so simple…) Thanks for your blog…i read it often and have recently started one of my own! 🙂

    3. Good post! Kim, I have a Q&A question for you. Can you address the topic of dogs? Having them indoors? Boundaries?

      I start to go nuts in the winter with our dog underfoot all the time. Do the kids help throw the ball for the dog, walk the dog, etc.?

      Are your dogs ‘just dogs’ or part of the family?

    4. I am the last of 5 children and by the time I was ready to help (at least by 10) my mom was too tired from working all day to want a “helper” in the kitchen. Even if I wasn’t a SAHM I would still make a concerted effort to prepare my children for this! I have to admit that I have been inconsistent at times, but I am really trying and enjoying it now that I set similar rules to yours. So each day I have one kitchen helper. They may not help with every meal but at least one and if they can they take care of the breakfast or lunch by themselves! By the way, I think this relates to next week’s topic of how to have one on one time with your children! Sweet pictures- thanks for sharing!

    5. “clean cook and a control freak”…
      yes, yes and YES!!! ME TOO!!! And this is exactly how I do it too. One helper at a time. Seriously, anymore than one at a time stresses me out. Then I might let out a little shout, and the children might scatter…just sayin’…it might happen.

    6. GREAT photos!

      I am really enjoying these “4 Mom” posts! In fact I even forwarded the link to your blog to our local homeschool group way up here in Canada!

      I have a question for your Q & A:

      I have a few children (11yr and 10 yr twins) that do not enjoy reading “for pleasure.” Their older brother (13yr) is keeping me on my toes trying to keep up with how MUCH he devours books!

      My question is this: Is there ever a child where you say “he/she just isn’t a ‘reader'”? Any tips (besides the obvious of having LOTS of books available, reading outload regularly) to create a love of reading???

    7. Ditto, Natalie! LOL, Gwen. I have 6, and the oldest is 8, and as much as I have to admit it’s easier than when I had 4 under 5, I can’t stand much help in the kitchen yet. Ground rules… gotta set up some of those. Thanks for the encouragement!

    8. Were those pearls I saw around your neck? There’s nothing like being dressed in the morning wearing pearls. You’re prepared for anything and anyone!
      Aprons all around on everyone keeps the mess off of the clothes and therefore it’s less daunting for me to think of the children cooking. Plus, all of the children who were cooking help clean afterward.

      • Jamie,
        Thanks for noticing. Actually I tend to put a necklace on for church, then forget to take it off until it absolutely clashes with with an outfit later in the week. Not much clashes with pearls so I’m still wearing them. It helps that I really, dearly love pearls.
        Incidentally, do you know how to tell a real pearl from a fake? Seriously: run it gently between your teeth. Fake pearls are smooth and plastic-y, while real ones will feel and sound ever-so-slightly gritty. It’s unmistakable.

    9. You eat CAKE for breakfast? Are you serious? Wow- wish I’d had a mom like you. I suppose it’s nothing different from eating a donut or cereal but unfortunately was raised that that wasn’t a hearty breakfast.

      • Seriously,
        Us? Cake for breakfast? Never! Except for two occasions: the times I posted about, and the times I didn’t.
        In our defense, we all drink a big glass of milk with it, and I don’t expect it to keep them going long. Those are the days we plan an early, hearty lunch, like a banana split with lots of walnuts to boost the protein.

    10. I am also a recovering neat/control freak. I usually have the other children play outside when ‘the one’ gets to help. Or I go play outside while my eldest experiments. 😀 My children would be so thrilled about having CAKE for breakfast. Thanks for the recipe.

    11. So relieved to read that I am not the only mom who cannot stand more than one helper in the kitchen at a time. I even only allow only 1 older helper at a time. If not, when I stop with one to give instructions to another, the first one mysteriously disappears.

    12. Control freak? I’m with you on that one, Kim! 🙂 Maybe that’s why the Lord has blessed us with large families – we gradually learn to relinquish that control to Him. What a beautiful thing that can be!!!

      I’ll never forget the time I had my kids lined up at the counter – each one doing a different step for making beef pot pie. I looked down the line and my one son (maybe 3 or 4yo at the time) was chewing up each piece of roast beef and spitting it into the pan.

      Agh. I have no idea how many pieces that happened to. Thank goodness we weren’t having company that night or they probably would have commented on the tender meat. 🙂

    13. Made this cake, this morning! Oh baby, it was so good! Thanks for sharing!

    14. My Boaz's Ruth says:

      My boy needs a hair cut too.

      We’re waiting until the cold recedes because we figure its warmth right now.

      I am SO glad to hear this! I’m a clean cook too (a clean, reluctant cook). I want to encourage my kid (soon-ish kids.) to help but…

    15. That boy of mine NEEDS a hair cut.

    16. YOU totally crack me up. I’m SO relieved to discover that I am not the only mother who gets ulcers at the thought of all my kids aged 8 and under in the kitchen with me making something. I’ve felt guilty all these years for only including one child at a time while other, happy mommies revel in the flour, sugar, eggs and butter all over 6 kids, the counter top, the flour, the walls and the handles of every appliance in the kitchen. (I’ve seen the pictures…and it looks so delightful. For THEM.) Thank you for the laughs…(I LOVE you!) and for showing us that we can be who we are…and still have fun in the kitchen. : )

    17. Kim you are always such an encouragement to me. I am a clean cook and a control freak in the kitchen too!

      When my husband cooks with the children he gladly lets them measure and spill flour, jockey for position, fall off stools, and generally do things that would make my head explode.

      By his example I get a little better each year. Lord willing, one day I won’t be a control freak in the kitchen!

    Don't just think it: say it!

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