What’s In A Kitchen? Cooking With Toddlers | By Lauren Cop

FOOD. I love everything about it – cultivating, harvesting, preparing, and consuming. I would consider myself a foodie in training. I don’t always eat organic, local, or Avant-garde food – but I do have knowledge of flavor and aim to improve upon my palate daily. Since my husband and I are so into food, we think it is very important that our children understand the importance of nourishment. We consume and grow a variety of foods. One of the easiest ways you can help teach your toddler the importance of good food is through cooking. Cooking is a basis of family life – think about it: most major family events are centered around a meal! What is more fun than having everyone enjoy your food that is prepared by the whole family and not just grandma in the kitchen?

What would give me the notion that I could cook with my toddlers? I mean how could you do anything elaborate with toddlers? Surely you must think I am nuts – but I really don’t know any different. My grandmother put me on a kitchen chair at about two years old and introduced me to cooking. A little back story of my grandmother: she was born during WWII in Germany and came to the United States as an orphan, to be adopted by her aunt and uncle when she was 13-years-old. At every family gathering, she would sit in wonderment – as a girl, she had no idea just how large her family would become. She has 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 2 great-grands. Grammy (as I call her – Omi to my cousins) always made sure to encourage us to honor your family and be thankful for them because you never know when they will be gone.

With heavy German and Italian roots, family food is very important to us Coppotellis (as with most families). Everyone looks forward to the antipasti, bread, and other home-cooked goodies. Grammy would allow me to help her prep veggies (especially peppers), bread chicken, roll dough, break eggs, etc.… You name it, she would allow me to be a part of the process. She let me taste, smell, and touch everything. Even if it was something that many might consider dangerous for a young kid – she allowed me to be a part of the process. Once I got a little older (late elementary school), she could basically let me be on my own in the kitchen to prepare chicken cutlets or veggie side dishes. I have always enjoyed this special time with her in the kitchen – learning new tricks, talking of family history, and laughing or singing a lot!

SCN_0014{ Grammy and Me – Photo by My Parents }

My other grandmother and her family have also taught me a lot about food. Me-ma (as I call her and Rammy to my cousins) grew up on a farm in Southern Georgia. She is from a large family so it is not surprising that her family has grown to match. She has 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 2 great-grands with another on the way. I recently attended the Chapman family reunion in Sylvester, GA on the family farm. My grandmother’s 5 siblings were there, along with several cousins of varying generations. As with most family gatherings on this side of the family, most of the women helped in some way in the kitchen.

However, in the kitchen there is a lot going on outside of just cooking – watching children, discussing the family news, checking up on “the game”, and of course all aspects of food preparation. I love being in my grandmother’s kitchen because she is meticulous – about everything! She is precise in her cooking, always done perfectly (even if she claims it wasn’t), and cleans as if nothing ever happened, all while holding on to any of the ongoing conversations and watching the children.

My late Great Uncle Arthur is another family member I must mention in my discussion of my food history. He was an eccentric man who was in the military, taught at Yale, wrote speeches for Kennedy, traveled the world, and was an excellent chef – just to name some of his trades! Every time I went to visit him in his little 1800s guest house in Hell’s Kitchen (yes that’s right a house in NYC) – you felt like you were in Italy. He had a slate patio with a fountain, some meal cooking on the stove, classical music playing, and lots of libations being poured. One of my favorite Christmases was when he and my father cooked homemade gnocchi. He too introduced me to lots of new tastes, smells, and combinations of food! My Uncle made foods come alive with his life stories, combinations of flavors, environment, and love for a good meal.

257101_10150217820902727_300364_o{Great Grand Uncle Arthur Coppotelli | Pic Taken by LAC }

My mother kept a kitchen much like her mother in the fact it was the center of family gatherings. We ate, did homework, danced, sang, and shared passionate conversations in that kitchen. My mother also encouraged us in the kitchen. We made cookies and other meals often throughout our childhood. She encouraged us to make our own meals and decisions about food. My mother tried to make our special meals, school lunches, and even birthday cakes whatever we decided (within reason). My father also partook in the kitchen, on Sundays mostly. He would cook some kind of sauce all day and we would have some kind of pasta that night. I grew up helping make these dishes along with my brothers – which we now all can make based on taste and touch. The kitchen was where all the action was with new faces, friends, and family all coming and going – the heart of the house! At time, my mother would sometimes need to shoo us out of there to get out from under her feet, it was always where my family was and still is located – eating, discussing, loving.

My husband’s family is also very into cooking and have introduced me to new cuisines and flavors. My husband has worked in restaurants and was encouraged as a child (along with his sister Lauren) to do things in the kitchen. He, in fact, does most of the dinner cooking in our home – always trying new dishes, flavors, and making them health-conscious. One of Drew’s favorite activities from his childhood is reading Alligator Cookies and making the cookies from the story. As a gifted and talented teacher and creative mother, my mother–in-law’s kitchen is also very important part of the home. A place for learning, exploring, and enjoying! My sister-in-law, Lauren, has continued this tradition by sharing her artfulness in the kitchen. All of her dishes are gorgeous, tasty, and creative (as evidenced by recent food blogs about fall flavors). Lauren’s food draws people in and holds them together.

scan0008{ Pic of LAC | Photo Taken by Gene Carlisle }

As you can see, kitchens and food are important to me. Although my husband tends the kitchen sometimes more than me – it is our common domain. All 4 of us make meals – smoothies, cookies, breads, dinners, etc.… We all enjoy the smells, taste, and touch of all the ingredients – in addition to helping grow as many ingredients as we can. Everyone preps, cooks, and cleans. We gather, share stories, and create! My children have smelled, touched, tasted, washed, cut, pealed, poured, and measured for prep. They have pushed buttons, stirred, smashed, and plated meals in the cooking process. They have loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, mopped the floor, and put away items. Everyone pitches in and everyone reaps the rewards! The kitchen is the soul of a family to me – and I love that mine is full of life!

Here are some quick tips on helping involve your children in the kitchen:

Preparation: Washing is probably the easiest task. Have them wash vegetables, fruit, or utensils in the sink with a small bowl of water. This way they don’t use too much water and won’t make too big of a mess. They can also help gather ingredients from the kitchen. In addition to tasting, smelling and touching are some of the best teaching opportunities for children. Trust me tasting a little baking soda is not going to kill someone!

Cooking: Some of the easiest things you can do are having them dump and mix ingredients. Sometimes I pre-measure the serving and explain to them how the different measurements correlate. For example, six teaspoons of sugar equals 2 tablespoons. You can also have them set the time and temperature of the oven/microwave. Lastly, you can have them decide on how to arrange the meal on the plate – with some gentle guidance, of course.

Cleaning: Give your child a spray bottle and wipe and let them go to town – or for little ones a small bowl of soapy water and sponge. Who cares if they make a mess – have them help you dry it with a towel. I always dreaded letting my kids play with soapy water – but I use kid safe soaps, and give them some direction and they really do a nice job cleaning!

20151026_112800-1{ Pic of Viv and Noli | Photo Taken by Lauren Cop }

Don’t be afraid to include your children in the kitchen. They can really help you and learn a good deal. Without our kitchens and food, family gatherings maybe wouldn’t be nearly as rich and memorable. Kitchens are the soul of the home and ones that are well-used are well-loved give the most happiness. Share the joy of life with your children, help it grow and prosper – especially through the food in your kitchen.


Lauren Cop is a part-time SAHM (Stay At Home Mom) of Irish Twins and Senior writer/editor ciao_laurencop_sig-01of the Olive Shoe Blog. Currently Lauren and her family live in Tallahassee, FL where she helps teach at a local pre-school. A Clemson fanatic, alumni and general sports enthusiast. She loves reading, gardening, food, and traveling. Follow her TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

The Olive Shoe | Paperie & Design | Celebrating Creativity and Creatively Celebrating is designed and run by Lauren {LAC} James © 2015 LAC James All Rights Reserved.

Lauren {LAC} James is a Sr. Designer of Product Graphics for an international manufacturing company by day and a creativity crusader, designer, planner extraordinaire, artist and blogger in her “free” time. Follow her and The Olive Shoe on FacebookTwitterPinterest or Instagram! Pleasesubscribe to receive emails, of course, come back and visit again soon!

Please visit the online art gallery {Art by LAC} and Etsy Shop too!


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