I turned to Lori, my next door neighbor, who is my food and cooking mentor, recently when preparing dinner was becoming a difficult task. Isabelle no longer wanted to play by herself, watch “Sesame Street,” or read her books while I prepared dinner. Instead, she wanted to be with me. But not just with me. She wanted 100% of my attention. (That’s kinda hard when you’re doing anything more than hitting the reheat button on the microwave.) Therefore, I turned to Lori for some guidance.
“Are you getting her involved in the cooking?” she asked.
“Yes, but it’s hard. She just wants to be held,” I replied.
“Have you tried putting her in her high chair so she can see what you’re doing?” Lori asked me.
“I have, but she doesn’t want to be in there…” I said hopelessly.
Lori gave me some additional ideas, but I filed away the high chair one in my head to try again.
My mom was with us last week, which happened to coincide with Isabelle having a fever for four days straight. (And then she got diagnosed with an ear infection.) Therefore, my mom was around and more than willing to entertain Isabelle while I prepared dinner. Tonight was my first night without someone around during dinner prep time. I hoped for the best, but expected the worst.
I placed the recipes on the counter to determine what I’d make first. Once I decided to start on the chicken, someone came running into the kitchen and she was not happy. Isabelle threw her arms around my legs and latched on. But I didn’t take the bait.
“Do you want to help mama make dinner?” I said in as upbeat of a voice as possible. “Here, why don’t you sit in your high chair while I finish cutting the tomatoes.”
I placed Isabelle in her high chair. She sat and watched me cut the tomatoes. I handed her a lemon. She held it, rolling it between her hands. She sniffed the sage when I handed her the bunch. This is going well, I thought. But then, I handed her the tarragon. Maybe she didn’t like the texture or maybe she didn’t like the licorice smell, but she wanted no part of the tarragon. In fact, she wanted no part of sitting in her high chair anymore. She had to come out.
Once the chicken was prepared it came time to work on the creamed spinach. Rather than getting right to work, I sat down on the kitchen floor and reached my arms out to Isabelle who was crying. “What’s wrong, Baba?” (That’s a silly little nickname I call her because ba-ba is the first sound she babbled.) She crawled into my lap and stopped crying. “Let’s read the recipe together.”
I began reading the creamed spinach recipe, which like the rest of tonight’s dinner, was new to me. She sat in my lap with rapt attention. I read the recipe to her as if it were a picture book, emphasizing words, pointing to things we needed to focus on, etc. Immediately after I finished reading, we discussed. We talked pots and pans. The two of us immediately went to work searching for the just-right pots for the recipe. We reread the recipe making sure we had the right ones. That took a good few minutes.
But, when it came time to put the pots on the stove to get cooking, Isabelle got cranky again. She wanted to be close to mama. This time I grabbed her booster seat, which was still attached to a dining room chair from last Friday night’s Shabbat dinner, and brought it into the kitchen. I sat her in the booster and tried to amuse her as I filled the large pot with water and put the spinach inside of it. Again, that lasted a couple of minutes. Then, she had to get down from the booster and the clingy-thing started again.
Somehow, I managed to get dinner made. I think it was thanks, in part, to my husband who intentionally came home from work 45 minutes earlier than usual since he knew dinner might be challenging this week.
Even though Isabelle isn’t ready to work through a recipe yet, I think it’s good that she was interested in it. I’m hoping this is an early sign that she’ll enjoy cooking with me… someday. Until then, I’m just glad she enjoyed the chicken. That, in and of itself, makes me happy.
If you’re a parent who has a suggestion for me about how to make dinner prep more seamless, then please let me know. (Please note: I’m really tired of using the slow cooker!) All out-of-the-box suggestions to help us get through this phase, which I know will pass, would be appreciated!
Links to tonight’s recipes:
Top left: Creamed spinach
Top right: Angel hair pasta with aromatic slow roasted tomato sauce (I slow-roasted the tomatoes and made the sauce yesterday.)
Bottom: Baked chicken with cherry tomatoes, herbs, and lemon
24 thoughts on “Reading a Recipe”
Your dinner looks delicious. Your grace and patience with Isabelle is beautiful. I do have a suggestion. My daughter had her own pots and pans and a small plastic kitchen.Maybe Isabelle could pretend to cook something for her bear.
@Pamela: My in-laws are getting her a play kitchen for Chanukah. Maybe I can convince them to get it for her sooner so I can park it our household kitchen. (BTW: She LOVES the kitchen set at school. That’s the first thing she goes to every time she walks into her classroom.)
@Pamela: Her bear! I never thought of bringing Schlepp downstairs for dinner. Maybe I’ll try that too!
Could you give Isabelle a set of plastic bowls and cups with a wooden spoon or spatula and have her “make” the same meal as you read the steps of the recipe, mixing when Mommy mixes, etc? If you have some plastic play food, all the better. My kids had some fruits &veggies with Velcro so they could cut the vegetables with the accompanying plastic knife and make them whole again. Otherwise, she could use a few Cheerios or other dry cereal that you don’t mind seeing on the floor.
@Isa: I have tried the bowls and wooden spoons in the past. I will try it again this week and will add her plush vegetable set to it. Cross your fingers… maybe it’ll work! Thanks for the idea!
In my cynical way, I think by the time you get things all set up, Isabelle will be on to something else, but the ideas above are what my granddaughter does sometimes Stacey. She has a kitchen set too & plays & plays. Now the younger one is in on it, so it’s a busy place. I also used to let my kids play in the sink while I cooked, if it’s okay to let Isabelle stand on a chair or stool. I just filled the sink with bubbly warm water, gave them measuring cups & spoons & that took up quite a lot of time. You’ll also need a plastic apron for Isabelle. Best wishes!
You’re not being cynical… you’re being realistic.
My kids had their “own” drawers filled with plastic (Tupperware) containers. Their “jobs” were to match the tops and bottoms (no small feat) and I got “excited” whenever they had a match. (Gee maybe that is why the daughter, now an adult, comes home now and still organizes that drawer!) It kept them busy for about 15 minutes most days and then they “set” the table for me. I suspect part of my “trick” was that my dinners never required much prep during the week. I cooked a soup or chicken in the pot and that was what kept us alive for most of the week! I applaud your wonderful dinner, but I’d call it a huge success if you just made “one” special dish at night!
I know my menu seems ambitious. I love to cook and enjoy trying new recipes. I feel more satisfied when I cook a meal everyone enjoys. Maybe I need to find more “one pot” recipes.
My three year old just rams me with his shopping cart to get my attention while I prep these days, but our daughter used to be very similar to your Isabelle. The play kitchen helped somewhat, but honestly I started making things on the weekend when she was napping and using them in parts for several days (blanched vegetables, cooked chicken, par boiled noodles and lots of soups) or freezing meals and heating them later. It made me that crazy to teach all day then not be able to get the dinner made. I wish you luck!
I feel your pain. I was there once long ago, but had three. I remember many frustrating dinner preps. The suggestions above are all good. I also think that this is probably a temporary clinginess from having been ill. You handle it all with such patience.
Thanks Margaret. Patience is the name of the game these days.
Perhaps I don’t remember making yummy recipes like that in my kitchen…but I seem to remember making much of the dinners while they were taking a nap…sometimes even during the morning nap. It is a long, long time ago for me also, but my daughter is right in this phase with Sammie too. I’m so sorry that she was sick too…that always seems to bring on the clings. You are her everything Stacey. xo nanc
Nap time is tricky around here. She doesn’t always take a long enough nap. And, I usually use that time for writing- and consulting-related things. (Sigh.)
Wow. This wasn’t problem I had with my boys. I like Linda’s idea of the sink and the toys. But I also don’t think it will work every day. You’re going to have to have a sack of tricks. A new book, colors and paper, a toy, anything she can only play with while you cook dinner.
Some others have mentioned the prep time for meals–maybe save high prep meals for the weekend when your hubby is around to help…..
Hope you find something that works!
@Deb: I do too! Tonight’s meal prep went smoothly because my neighbor’s daughter came over in the capacity of a mother’s helper. She entertained Isabelle so well. I’m going to try to see if she can come over once a week. That might take the edge off for at least one night a week!
Gosh it’s been so long since my kiddos were grabbing my leg as I walked around and tried to cook. It seems we were always in the kitchen. I do remember having them learn to set the table at a very early age, one thing at a time. If they could reach the table they were “setting” it. I also remember bread dough being pretty helpful. It was fun and gooey. But many meals were made with a child on my hip facing away from me, moving around the room in a walker, or riding on the top of my foot as I moved around. Good luck!
I know what you are going through and I will be reading from the comments seeking out ideas for getting through this stage with my toddler as well! ThE food looks so yummy!
I don’t know that I’m a font of wonderful advice. I don’t really like to cook, so my meals are always incredibly simple. I do think that the kitchen set could help. That, and a little more time (they grow out of phases like this so fast!) So while it’s tough now, it could be months or even weeks before she’s gotten easier at dinner time.
I am just amazed at the wonderful meal you were able to prepare, even though you knew going into it that it would be a challenge. I agree with what others have said, your patience is very apparent. Maybe even just knowing that if she is fussing, you are still adding in some small moments with while you are cooking. I think that you are right. Over time Isabelle is going to love the time with you in the kitchen and she will go through different phases, but is going to learn a lot throughout the years and it will be an avenue for you two to communicate and something to enjoy together as she grows.
Stacey you sound like wonder woman! Is this a “normal” dinner? If so, I am so impressed…I don’t even have little ones running around and my dinners are nothing like this. In one word simplify! Or another suggestion now that cool weather is coming think of a couple meals that can be made on Sunday. Meat loaf stays well, stuffed peppers/tomatoes or a big pot of hearty soup. My othere thought… the day will come all too quickly when little Isabella won’t want to be right next to you…enjoy the moments 🙂
@Lynn: I’m terrible about weekend dinner prep. Sunday seems to go so quickly and before I know it, it’s 9:00 p.m. and I’m thinking about going to sleep soon thereafter. I have to get better at cooking.
As for the normalcy of this dinner… it kind of is. Once I left the classroom in 2009, I began cooking. I love to experiment with new dishes. It’s hard for me to simplify since I love to try new things. But you’re right… I do need to simplify!
You ask for advice. I can’t think of anything useful. My only thought is that I know I involved my daughters in baking and they are good at that, they were not as involved at dinner making and they aren’t particularly keen on that now.
Your pic of the meal looks yummy. You are certainly raising a child who will appreciate good food all her life.