Toddler Cooking Class: Veggie Sushi

03.23.11: Leo's 34th Month

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Leo’s play group is an important part of our lives: it’s our neighborhood parenting community, it’s a handful of kids we’ve been seeing since they were tiny, and it’s one of the few things we’ve done, pretty much every week, since Leo was a couple weeks old. When we think about buying a house in another neighborhood, playgroup—and the adults and kids we’ve gotten close to—immediately come to mind. If our community is so copasetic, I say to myself, then maybe we’re just in the right place.

We’re probably not as similar as we think, and I suppose I may someday realize that the biggest things we had in common were the challenges of raising kids the same age. But to me, playgroup represents a supportive bunch of people dealing with the same issues (none of us is independently wealthy, none of us pretends to be a parenting know-it-all, and we’re all trying to make a good life and be good people in this one spot in world). It is a rare and wonderful thing, to be part of a group like this.

Some weeks, just a couple kids show. Some weeks there’s a full house, and it’s very apparent that the majority of our kids are male. Some weeks, the kids all do the same thing together—like jump around on our couch—and I marvel that the little billiard balls who just months ago interacted mostly to fight over toys, are now a big happy party of real kids. Week by week, playgroup members are moving out of diapers, revealing idiosyncrasies, and sprouting up into tall, thoughtful, talking beings. One week a little boy started referring to himself as Peggy. A few weeks later, Leo introduced his imaginary friend Jason. Kids have begun to say “thank you for coming” and such on their own. It’s just so cool to see how this age sits on different individuals from week to week.

We rotate hosting, and I try to do a cooking class from time to time, something I started last summer. I revived the tradition with a sushi class this week, though I had a hunch that making the sushi would be more fun than eating it. Playgroup consisted of two girls and Leo this week—a shockingly quiet combination that has never happened before. We briefly looked at pictures of sushi in a book, then I introduced the kids to the big spread of sliced veggies I’d prepared, and we set about smushing rice onto a sheet of seaweed with our hands. Very fun.

I think one of the biggest things I can offer the kids in a cooking class at this age is the magic of the process. How are we going to take something flat like nori and turn it into a round disk of sushi with colorful filling in the middle? Rolling it up, then slicing it, is really pretty amazing if you stop to think about it. The kids enjoyed participating, and one little girl got very into the sesame seeds. Leo focused on eating avocado. They all enjoyed selecting and placing the filling, and helping to slice the roll. Then came the tasting.

“Yuck,” said Leo and his sesame seed—loving friend. They retreated to play while their companion sat and enjoyed quite a bit of our homemade veggie sushi. I figure one out of three is not bad—this is toddlers and vegetables we’re talking about here. And you know, watching those kids focus on making sushi together totally made my week. Oh, where would I be without playgroup?

Recipe: Vegetarian Sushi

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.