Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vegetarian Freezer Cooking with a 3 Year Old

As I explained previously, I didn't have a big block of time to do my Freezer Cooking, so I decided to try and fit it around life. As a result, I did some of my cooking over the weekend while prepping for a dinner party, and the rest I didn't have time to do until today (Wednesday) because I was too busy taking pictures of my amazing new basement processing room! I didn't intend to do all vegetarian cooking, but that is what we ended up doing as I don't have much meat in the house.

Fortunately, my 3 year old daughter Julia was feeling helpful (rather than oppositional) and she helped me cook for 2 hours! I was really impressed with her ability to focus and follow instructions. She likes to peel garlic cloves, which is wonderful, because I find it quite tedious...

When you're working with a little one helping, I try to follow a few guidelines:
  • Keep the projects small and doable, and recognize that it will take much longer than usual to prepare a recipe. I intentionally made smaller amounts of food than I would make on my own.
  • Don't rush. If you are crunched for time, it is not a good time for your child to be helping you!
  • When giving instructions, be very specific, and use visual cues (demonstrate pouring into the bowl, etc.)
  • Expect a mess.
  • Give little jobs, such as taking items to the trash can, but also give 'big' jobs within reason. This will boost their confidence when they see that you are confident they can do something. I was a little nervous about a few things Julia did today, such as pouring bowls of chopped veggies into the soup pot (she has a history of either missing or dropping the bowl in the pot!) but I gave her a chance and she did a good job. She wouldn't improve without practice!
  • Don't get mad when someone makes a mistake or mess, even when you make one! (I'm the one who spilled quinoa all over the counter...)

Here's what we achieved:
  • Lasagna (Vegetarian Version): It was so easy to split this recipe between an 11x7 pan (for my dinner party) and an 8x8 (for the freezer). To make it vegetarian, simply omit the ground meat! This batch was also gluten-free because I used Brown Rice noodles.
  • Strawberry Bread: This recipes makes two large loaves, so one I served as dessert for the dinner, and the other I quickly stowed in the freezer before it was inhaled. (I'll post this recipe soon...)
  • Creamy Enchilada Casserole: My daughter put the tortillas in the pan, sprinkled the cheese and green onion, and helped me make the refried bean mixture and cheese sauce. My freezer is too full for this to fit, so we'll serve it for dinner tomorrow.
  • Quesadillas: My daughter sprinkled cheese, folded, and stacked them between wax paper slips for the freezer. (She also counted them: we made 7, which is enough for 2 lunches) These weren't in the plan, but we were out of them, Julie likes to make them, and they're easy.
  • Quinoa Vegetable Soup: This soup is vegan and delicious! My daughter enjoyed pouring vegetables in the pot, stirring, adding spices, etc. I kept the heat on very low and stayed right next to her the entire time to make sure she didn't burn herself. It took much longer to cook everything, but she was safer and happy helping me. This recipe makes maybe 10 cups of soup? I'll freeze it in 2-cup batches and it will be enough for 4-5 lunches, I think.
  • Multi-Grain Pancake Mix: Julie took a break while I quickly mixed up a new batch of the dry pancake mix that we like. The recipe is from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook and includes whole wheat, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, and corn flours. We made 8 cups: enough for 4 breakfasts plus a few leftover for snacks. Fortunately this will keep in the pantry, because the freezer is small and officially full!

Here is a picture of the fruits of our labors, including the wonderful Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs that I made last week with a friend during a play date. (I have a Cooking Play Date tomorrow with a different friend and we are going to make another vegetarian meal from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook: Ratatouille!)

I love to gloat over my freezer stash! You can see others' reports here over at Money Saving Mom.


VanderbiltWife said...

Cooking Play Date! That's genious!

It all looks wonderful and that's awesome you're able to give your daughter small tasks to help. Mine is 16 months and mostly she likes to play with empty pots, pans, and tupperware. :)

Michelle said...

Oh yes, at that age I would set s/he up on a chair at the sink, turn on the water at just a trickle, and let them 'wash dishes' just so I could ge dinner on the table! (Usually I'd strip them to a diaper and put towels all around.) They love to 'help' from a very early age...