Cooking with a Toddler: Playing with Dough and Sneaking in Lima Beans
5.27.10: Leo's 24th Month
A two-year-old in the kitchen is a fascinating creature: wildly excited by textures and causality (hence, he spills for the fun of it), passionately interested in adult activities (“Gimme knife! Gimme knife!”) and extraordinarily opened-minded—at least in theory (“ooh, lima beans!”). It’s definitely the time to open the baby gate that keeps Leo out of our kitchen. Of course, knives and heat sources are inappropriate, liquids are dicey, patience is at a premium all around, and, in summary, cooking with a two-year-old takes presence of mind. And frozen pizza dough.
I make (or just buy) balls of pizza dough to keep in the freezer, and thaw them in advance so they’re ready to play with by the time we get home from school. You can add some whole wheat flour to any standard pizza dough recipe (or Trader Joe’s sells frozen whole wheat dough) if you like, and even if you end up making plain pizza you’ll know it’s healthier than a super salty, greasy pizzeria slice (ah, how I miss being pregnant. Sort of). The dough is sturdy enough to handle the play dough treatment, and Leo loves stretching and poking it into sloppy “rounds”, then topping them with sauce and sprinkling on as much cheese as he is able to refrain from eating. Lo, fifteen minutes later you’ve got a piping hot pie!
Of course, sometimes fifteen minutes later is an unbridgeable gulf. Never mind sauce, cheese, or even the oven. Some days, we brush a little softened butter or olive oil onto our rude dough shapes, crank up the toaster oven and try to distract ourselves while we wait for the ding! That’s how we ended up making lima bean-amole (‘Hummus, meet Guacamole, Guacamole, meet Hummus.’) for dinner tonight, with freshly-made whole wheat flatbreads. If I could throw the dishes into the tub along with Leo and a washcloth I’d have it all worked out. Ha ha…hmmm, maybe I’m onto something?
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.