My new toddler reality series launched this week: we made hummus with Leo’s playgroup. This begins what I hope will be a new chapter in my life as a mother and, um, not-just-a-mother. The idea is to see whether it is possible for me to teach toddler cooking classes—whether I can do it, whether I like doing it, whether people would want me to do it. I started small, with four two-year-olds and a pile of chickpeas in the living room. But my goal is nothing short of world-domination.
It all started when Leo’s school sent home the list of “field trips” for the summer. It read something like this: ice cream, Burger King, ices, Dunkin Donuts, ice cream. “What is this alternate reality where we’re dropping off our kid three days a week?” I shouted. Aaron agreed that the list didn’t seem wholesome, and we sent Leo to school that Friday with an envelope containing his Burger King money that was printed with the words “Leo. No soda please.”
“What can you do?” I said to myself. This is how enormous sections of the population relate to food. This is a list of class trips that most of the parents at Leo’s school probably wouldn’t blink about. And we like Leo’s school a lot, so I wasn’t about to march in there and start preaching about the evils of refined sugars and the produce-deprived, skewed understanding of nutrition that Leo’s class is being—inadvertently—taught at school.
So I fumed for a while. Every time I passed something interesting in the neighborhood—the library! The firehouse! The barbershop!—I wondered why the class couldn’t make a trip there. Then I resolved to put my powers of produce-pushing to use. First: hummus in the living room. Next, well, maybe guacamole in the living room. And someday, perhaps, I’ll mention to the principal of our wonderful local preschool that I’d be more than happy to come teach cooking classes. But first, there’s a learning curve.
Now that I’ve attempted to teach four two-year-olds how to make hummus in my living room I am a little more understanding about why Leo’s teachers might not want to bring ten of these pinball-type individuals to, say, a firehouse. I told my friend that the class went well but I might need to work on classroom management, referencing the distracted nature of my students (“ooh, there’s a toy over there!”) and the concern I had for my upholstered furniture. My friend suggested my ‘classroom’ might be more to blame, but we also discussed how using structure and repetition could help bring everyone on board. She suggested opening and closing the class with a song, and if anyone has suggestions I’m all ears. (“Happy hummus day to you” perhaps?)
I prepared by putting out two low tables in our living room since the kitchen is too narrow. Aaron recommended a visual recipe, which was a great idea. We used it like a checklist, and while the kids may not have fully grasped the recipe checklist concept, they all got into filling in the boxes. Other popular activities included moving chickpeas from one dish to another (“measuring”), squeezing lemon juice (plus tasting lemons and making funny sour faces), stirring, pinching the salt and cumin, and the biggest hit of all, taking turns pushing the food processor buttons. That was huge.
Most of the kids enjoyed the fruits of their labor, chowing down on whole wheat pita and cucumber slices along with the hummus. I realized only then that I had neglected to fully photograph the event, but so it is when you have toddlers cooking in your living room. As I said, it’s a learning curve. Next week I hope to make guacamole. Beyond that, I’m open to suggestions. What else do toddlers like to make? And how about a theme song?
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.