There’s one thing that’s almost certain to lift those young eyes from their iPods, TV screens or computer monitors: food. Whether you’re babysitting some nieces and nephews, or it’s pouring with rain outside, cooking is always an engaging activity. So when the echoes of “I’m bored” get too much, tempt them into the kitchen with promises of (limited) mess-making, spatula-licking, and wholesome goodness.
If possible, choose a time when you are in good spirits and have a reserve of sabr; this is not going to be pretty. Mornings are often better, but there can be something about that late evening bake when the kids are restless during the school holiday evenings.
Think how many children your kitchen can comfortably accommodate, and ensure that the tasks involved can be delegated more or less equally to avoid those “It’s my turn to stir/ pour in the flour” moans.
Think about appropriate clothing, be it aprons or an old shirt, as I am yet to find an ingredient that is not messy (OK, maybe water). For minimal stress, do it when the floor is due for a clean anyway, so that you don’t have to mop it twice.
Have all the ingredients, pots, pans and utensils to hand. Nothing is more disappointing than finding you have run out of baking powder which then cancels any fluffy cake making.
Make sure everyone washes their hands. This is always a good habit, as young fingers host more types of germs than the Olympics do athletes.
It is always good to start things with ‘Bismillah’ and cooking is no different. I find a disastrous oven episode often follows the omission of these words. So why not increase the barakah in the food by starting off right? Don’t forget to say it again when you all tuck into the resulting culinary masterpieces!
A simple sandwich
For the younger ones, making a simple sandwich can be a fun challenge, and can be a practical lesson for the future. Let them spread the butter, choose the fillings and decide whether to cut it into squares, rectangles or triangles. In fact, you can use cookie cutters to make the sandwich shape more interesting (use the remaining crusts for feeding the ducks or to make breadcrumbs).
Maybe a Dad is reading this (we know you do!) and could assist their son or daughter to make a heart-shaped piece of toast with honey for Mama for breakfast in bed. This would surely bring forth a smile and perhaps tears (of joy, hopefully!) to the eyes of a Mum, who is normally busying herself with breakfast for all the family.
Fun fruit salad
My son’s favourite is making a fruit salad. Even quite young children can cut soft fruit such as bananas with a blunt knife, and the older ones can do it all themselves. Grapes, pieces of tangerines, apple slices, you name it, it can go in the fruit salad. Just top the cut fruits with some fruit juice straight away so that the fruit does not go brown. A sprinkle of cinnamon powder adds a little extra flavour. I find only older children understand what ‘sprinkle’ means, so do not delegate this to the under 5’s!
This is always a hit, and can be made from scratch if you have the time and patience. Or ready-made pizza bases, sauce and grated cheese plus a variety of toppings (vegetables, salami, herbs such as oregano) can just as easily be used to construct a perfect pizza.
This is the ultimate comfort food and its creation is just as tasty. Find a simple recipe, mix the ingredients, and pop it into the oven. And then the best bit: licking the bowl. Always remember to put the oven on first so that it has a chance to heat up and so does not cause any delay in the eating of the cake by its creators. Forgetting this also means that as soon as you have added the wet ingredients to your baking powder, it starts to react. If you then have to wait too long for the oven to heat up, the cake mixture will have lost some of the gas from the baking powder reaction, and will likely be less fluffy.
You can buy ready-made icing tubes for some fun decoration as well as many other edible adornments for your cake.
Whatever they’ve decided to make, a fun idea is to get them to run their own ‘cafe’. They can make a menu (draw pictures if they can’t write yet), take the orders and decorate a table, perhaps with a posy of flowers from the garden. They are sure to enjoy serving you something scrumptious, and it’ll certainly make a change for the adults!
And finally, don’t forget to get them involved in the clean-up, although I find the thrill of washing up wanes all too quickly as they get older!
So get out the oven gloves, aprons and ingredients or just simply make some toast together. Cooking will, insha Allah, gather the family together in the kitchen. That warm, freshly-baked scent drifting around the house, and happy, well-fed children should make any mess worth it!
Umm Suhayb is a writer and editor at Mint Writing, originally from the UK but now based in Sweden.