The Toddler Cooking Project: Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins

I have two big passions in life: early childhood education and cooking. This year, as I came back to the preschool world, I decided to join both interests. I made it a personal goal to teach our class of toddlers about healthy food habits. I am using three main techniques (or activities): an inviting pretend kitchen area, food-inspired discovery bins, and real cooking projects.

Introducing food in the classroom is a wonderful way to develop various areas of learning including fine motor skills, sensory exploration (in terms of tactile sensations as well as flavors), following directions, imagination and creativity, patience (try waiting for your turn in a class of 12!), as well as general curiosity.

For the past two months, I introduced various activities to start develop their interest for food. Our apple-picking week is a good example. I brought a big container of oats to use as a pouring/scooping bin. I also brought cinnamon sticks, fake apples, as well as tools like measuring spoons/cups, baking dishes and empty spice containers. The children were not only encouraged to use the oats as a sensory activity but also to use their imagination and to “bake” different dishes. Needless to say, we were presented with many pretend apple cakes, muffins and pies.

Examples of pretend play and discovery areas: cooking fake apples, practicing slicing skills and playing with a mixture of real (oats, cinnamon sticks) and fake (apple) ingredients.

After baking apple muffins with the children, the day after we went apple-picking, I thought I could probably do more with this idea. A couple of weeks later, after many excited conversations with my wonderfully patient co-teacher, our parents received an email explaining my latest crazy idea: starting in November, we will cook with the toddlers once a week. Our awesome parents helped us get many items in our cooking wish list, helping make the project easier.

This week, we had our first project: pumpkin oatmeal muffins (click for the recipe). The children were very excited because, not only were they going to mix ingredients and see the result but they would also get to eat their baking goods for snack. The children even received an impromptu health lesson as I unfortunately cut my finger with scissors while trying to open the lemon juice bottle. I showed them how I wasn’t crying, cleaned my boo-boo, put on a band-aid and then covered my hand with a glove. They carefully watched as I explained each part to them. The other health lesson was about having clean hands to cook. All the children were sent to wash their hands before they started and were reminded that we couldn’t put our hands in our mouth/nose/anywhere else when we were cooking or we’d have to wash our hands again. Despite the usual toddler temptations, they did surprisingly well! Two of our youngest kiddos proudly cracked the eggs for the recipe (a stressful experience for the grown-ups, but a very gratifying one for the little ones), and everyone else patiently waited to their turn to add an ingredient and stir it all up.

The final result: even our pickiest eaters devoured the healthy muffins, when reminded that they made them.

Mixing and stirring (faces blurred for obvious privacy and safety reasons)
Mixing and stirring (faces blurred for obvious privacy and safety reasons)
IMG_0007 - Version 2
Nom, nom, nom…devouring our work!

For the rest of the school year, my goal is to introduce weekly healthy (or at least diverse) recipes. I will also try to always make recipes from scratch (or at least as much as possible considering that we only have access to a small toaster oven). My main goal is to show them the full process…using boxed mixes would be easier but it would also be cheating.

Next week, we will try out a much simpler project: smoothies.

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