One of the moms in our playgroup had a baby girl last week! So our playgroup started a meal sign-up and will be taking them a few meals each week in January and early February.
So I signed up to go first. I’m really happy I did it too! Hardly anyone had signed up yet, which meant all of the good ideas weren’t claimed! And it meant I got to drop in on a very fresh baby yesterday evening!
I cook dinners a few times a week, and do leftovers the other nights with the occasional take out on the weekends. But I usually end up doing some sort of dinner prep every night. This is great because for us, dinner prep is a daily routine. And as I’ve said in many posts, young children learn best through routines and repetition! This makes it a perfect opportunity to work on Van’s emerging speech and language skills.
So I brainstormed some of my favorite healthy meals and decided to go with chili! With all this cold weather, it seemed like the perfect option. Plus its so easy to sneak extra veggies in there to make it a bit healthier! Then it was time for the fun part…doing meal prep with a toddler! And of course, being the speech nerd that I am, I had to include some language building tips for cooking with our little chef!
Tip #1: prep the meats when you know your child is contained.
Ok not super speechie, but practical! Van always seems to want to be picked up right when I get raw meat juice on my hand. So I browned my beef for the chili during Van’s nap on Monday. If he hadn’t napped, I would’ve done it while i had him set up with a large snack in the high chair. Naturally he woke up in the middle, crying, but at least I knew he was somewhere safe for the few minutes I needed to finish up!
Tip #2: Narrate everything you do, then let your little one try to do it.
Give your child kitchen supplies as you finish using them or clean kitchen supplies similar to what you’re using. Talk about what you’re doing and show your little one how to do it too. This is a great opportunity to target verbs or early prepositions such as “in” and “out”.
You can do this with play foods as well, giving your child foods that are similar to what you’re cooking with. We make a lot of salads to go with dinners at our house, so this set of play vegetables has been a hit. When he gets a little older, I’d like to get him one of the wooden cutting sets like this one. They also make soft felt foods like this adorable felt salad set which may be good if your child likes to throw!
Tip #3: Have some interesting kitchen supplies on standby
Pasta spoons, spatulas, measuring cups, whisks, metal bowls…there are so many fun kitchen supplies that are pretty safe for babies and toddlers. Have some of these interesting supplies on standby. When your little one gets bored with one, give them a new one. Remember to name each item several times as your child plays with! Also, make silly sound effects to encourage vocal play and keep your little one interested!
Tip #4: when your child can’t have something, explain why
We may have overdone this one Van! He loves to yell “hot” at random people sipping their Starbucks at Publix! In all seriousness, giving your child a word for something they can’t have will help them deal with the frustration of not being able to get it. Try to be consistent and keep the language simple. “No touch. Sharp knife. It’s sharp. Sharp”. Be sure to use facial expressions too. A concerned look will help your child understand it’s something they don’t want much better than an excited smile!
Tip #5: it’s always ok to let them play nearby- just make sure you talk with them!
We moved Van’s books to the kitchen when he was around 6 months old. I would just let him sit by the island looking at books while I cooked. If he was paying attention to what I was doing, I’d talk about it. If he was into his books. I’d talk about some of the pictures he was looking at. Just remember to keep your phrases short, slow, and simple! Young children are more likely to imitate phrases they think they can say.
Tip #6: Take advantage of your little taste tester
Although it’s within our scope of practice, I don’t do a ton of feeding therapy. I’ve had a client here or there and I’ve taken a couple of continuing ed. courses on pediatric dysphagia, but I am far more experienced with early language and articulation treatments. I will say that exposing your child to a variety of foods and textures is generally a good thing! I like to give Van large pieces of clean, raw veggies to gnaw or play with while I cook. This is especially great for babies without many (or any) teeth, because they can get the taste without much of a risk of biting off a large piece. Green beans, peppers, and large carrots are perfect for this! Van is a pretty good eater, and is getting his second pair of molars, so if he enjoys playing with it and tasting it, I’ll often cut the vegetable into fine pieces and let him try to chew it. This is great to do with meats once they’ve been cooked as well!
Then to build vocabulary I name the food several times and PAUSE to give him a chance to try to say it too. Sometimes I narrate as he tastes it saying “yummy”, “eat”, “crunch”, “cold” etc. It’s a fun way for him to feel like he’s participating while I cook while learning some new words! I try to do this every day while I get dinner ready so that it’s part of our daily routine. I’ll admit, some days I’m more creative than others! If this were a take-out night he’d probably be playing with a piece of lettuce while I set the table and made sure his food was cut into small bites.
I hope you enjoy making some meals with you little one! Let me know how it goes by liking this page or leaving a comment. I always love hearing from you!