Sunday, July 15, 2012

Preschool cooking adventures: No-Cook Peanut Butter Balls

The Boy decided he wanted to make his own snack in the kitchen today. He wanted to bake cookies. We didn't have what we needed (including time) to make those, but I thought we could pull off these No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls.

I remember making these with my friend Anna after school when we came home to her house starving after an intense day of fourth grade. We often made brownies, too, but these were easier and faster since they didn't have to cook.

The time came to prepare snack, and The Boy was bouncing up and down, all ready to go. I had my hands full with two very fussy babies.

So, after considering carefully, I handed him the recipe on a post-it note and told him he could start pulling out the ingredients himself. I figured that would buy me a little time to get in there to help him.

1 cup oatmeal
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup dry milk
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp vanilla 

He was amazingly careful climbing his stool to reach things in cabinets. He knew where everything was, too. He only needed a little help to decide which measuring cups to get out. He deliberated for a strangely long time before selecting a mixing bowl and chose one of the tiny toddler spoons for mixing everything together. (Not what I would have chosen...but I decided to ride it out. This is how he learns that it's harder to stir things with a tiny spoon than with a big one.)

This is what it looks like when a preschooler arranges the ingredients.
When everything was out, both babies were nursing, leaving me still unavailable to help (though sitting nearby in the kitchen to watch and encourage).

I took a deep breath. Then one more. I thought about peanut butter all over the front of the cabinets and oatmeal spilled under the front of the stove. I wondered if he was actually capable of measuring things in cups by himself (even after our moon sand experience, I still had my doubts).

Then, I thought how excited he would be if he could actually pull it off.

And what if he got sick of the whole thing and quit before it was done?

I decided I didn't care. I could give him the option of crackers for snack if he abandoned this project. I'd be able to clean it up later when George got home. It would be okay. It would keep him busy during one of the toughest times of the day, on a day when the babies had obviously decided not to go easy on me.

So I told him he could do it himself and I'd help if he got stuck.
He bounced. He grinned. He nearly fell off the stool in his excitement.

I policed his finger-licking and kept making him wash his hands with soap every time he did it. I sent him off for seven separate hand washes. He didn't argue, which I found incredible...especially considering he had to drag the wooden stool from the counter to the sink every single time.

Measuring the peanut butter...fingers were involved. Go wash your hands again.



 It gets kind of thick and hard to stir. Luckily, Daddy came in just in time to hold the bowl.



The aftermath, and the recipe. Not that bad, really.



You can't see the peanut butter hand prints on the oven door from here.


The finished product looked (and was) edible.

That last photo was taken just before he tried to grab one of the treats with one hand while holding the plate with the other hand, causing all but three peanut butter balls to roll onto the floor. He grabbed them up and piled them back onto the plate, shouting, "Five second rule!" I couldn't argue. Who wants to lose their hard-earned treats before tasting them?

And now, the Busy Parent's breakdown:

Messiness factor: 8
This is way messier than I am usually willing to tolerate. Sticky, sticky, sticky everywhere! You know what, though? I survived. The kitchen is clean again, and nothing was permanently damaged. Maybe I'm growing up.

Prep time: 1
The Boy did all the prep this time. The ingredients are basic pantry items, so I knew we had everything we needed. He just needed to get them out.

Notes on the ingredients: you can easily leave out the coconut if you don't like it. Just use a little less peanut butter. Also, quick or instant oats work better than rolled or old-fashioned oats...the thinner, smaller texture seems to absorb more easily into the balls, which helps them hold their shape without being too dry.

Cleanup time: 4
We needed to wipe down the counters thoroughly to clean off the peanut butter. It was also on the floor. Honey was on the floor and counters, too...a big sticky mess. Then there was sweeping and doing the dishes. The Boy helped with cleanup, but I needed to clean it again when he was done.

Note: if your child helps you clean and you find you need to redo her part, consider how she will feel about it. Some children's confidence might be undermined if they see you coming right behind them to correct what they just did, and they might be less willing to try next time. If you, like me, need things to be cleaner than your preschooler needs them to be, consider doing that cleaning when she's not watching or doing it alongside her rather than constantly correcting her as she is cleaning. The Boy seems to get really discouraged if we repeatedly correct him ("Try sweeping like this...there's still more dirt over there...you need to wipe that part again"), but he likes it when we work together ("Why don't you hold the dustpan while I sweep?" or "Would you like me to show you how we can make the sticky part smooth again?"). We even have a second broom and dustpan so that we can work at the same time (which makes it less obvious if I need to go over a part that he just cleaned). As your child gets more practice at cleaning and develops his skills, you will have to do less and less. Just think how nice it will be when he can clear the dinner table and load the dishwasher by himself while you sit back and prop up with a cool drink!

Learning factor (a.k.a. "what can I work in if I'm feeling motivated to help my kid make connections?"):
  • Math- measuring, fractions, adding, counting
  • Fine motor- pouring, stirring, rolling the mixture into balls
  • Nutrition, awareness of "healthy/growing food" versus "junk food" - these are actually pretty healthy as sweet treats go since they use honey as the sweetener. 
  • Sequencing, putting steps in order
  • Word recognition and reading or pre-reading skills

Ages appropriate: Depending on your tolerance for mess, you could make this snack with very young children. The Boy has been "helping" in the kitchen since about 18 months old. The degree which your child participates depends on your comfort level with spills and whether you are in a hurry or not. This is a good one for little helpers since it uses big measurements (easier to handle than small measuring spoons) and is instant-gratification (no cooking/waiting time for them to be finished).

How long did it last? It took the boy about an hour to do this basically on his own. Normally you could mix them up in ten minutes or so. He was easily distracted and had to keep stopping to wash his hands...your child might be faster!

Would I do this again (was it worth it)? It was a big mess. It kept him busy for an hour, though, and he felt great about it. I would do it again, and I think it would probably go even more smoothly.

The Boy's review: "These are super yummy. We should eat this for snack every day. It's okay if I lick my fingers now?"