I always bear a tinge of guilt whenever we use food for play because it feels so wasteful. My mind goes through an internal debate, taking into consideration such things as how much food is used, what the alternatives options are, and whether there is replay value, before I either move forward or pass up such activities.
Decorating real Easter eggs has never made my “move forward” list because the eggs normally go straight to the bin after the egg hunt — I personally would not eat them since not all dyes are edible and the eggs may not be safe for consumption after sitting in room temperature for so long. As alternatives, we have used plastic and styrofoam eggs in the past, but they are not the most environmentally friendly options either.
This year, we moved onto no-waste, biodegradable Easter eggs by decorating just the egg shells. We poked a small hole into raw eggs with a pointy scissor, emptied the contents with a few shakes (which we kept for cooking later), and rinsed the insides of the shells.
Due to their fragility, we opted for a gentler decorating method that did not require too much handling. I did not want to just soak the eggs in food coloring so we dyed them with bleeding tissue paper instead. Bleeding tissue paper is colored tissue paper that “bleeds” its color when wet. This is not some fancy art material as many regular tissue papers do this.
The Dumpling cut up strips of tissue paper and layered them onto the shells.
We occasionally coated the shells with a light spray of water so the tissue papers stuck on better and continued wrapping until the eggs were completely covered with several layers.
We waited overnight for everything to dry and unwrapped the tissue paper to find beautifully dyed eggs!
The shells endured under the hands of my four year old better than expected because only one broke after several rounds of egg hunting.
When the Dumpling was around two and a half years old, there was an incident that forever changed how cooking was done in our household. My toddler was then looking for me, found me standing in front of the kitchen stove, and became thoroughly confused.
“Mommy, what are you doing?” she asked.
“Cooking,” I replied.
“No, mommy,” she said shaking her head. “You cook over there.” By there, she pointed at the microwave.
Kids say the darndest things.
In my defense I did proper cooking — from scratch with fresh ingredients. The only opportunity for me to do so back then was while she napped, so she almost never saw me in front of the stove. My M.O., however, was to make a giant batch and eat leftovers for the next several days. So whenever the Dumpling saw me in the kitchen, the chances of me being in front of the microwave were high. Very high.
After the Dumpling’s savage microwave shaming, I realized that I needed to show my toddler there was more to cooking than reheating leftovers. As I attempted to prepare fresh meals more frequently, I also got her involved in the process. At first I asked her to help with her own snacks, such as:
Peel boiled eggs: It was her chance to finally break something without getting in trouble. For easier peeling, soak the egg in cold water first.
Peel clementines: Clementines are small and have thin skin, making them easy to hold and peel with little hands. I rolled them around my counter first to help loosen the flesh from the skin.
Slice bananas: It was a bit scary to see my kid with a knife…even if it was just a butter knife. Luckily no one got stabbed. As with all activities, adult supervision is required.
Pick grapes: I still slice grapes in half before serving them, so I would ask her to help me pick them off the stems and soak them.
As she grew older, we started experimenting with various recipes — mostly dessert-related because they are enticing motivators. Below are a few of my favorites. Depending on their complexity, I separated the steps into multiple activities or only involved her in what she was able to do (ex: whisking/sifting flour, mixing ingredients, kneading dough, etc.).
Ice Cream Without Machine: A three ingredient recipe (heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla extract) that is super easy. We were amazed to see heavy cream turned into whipped cream before our very eyes!
Sugar Cookies: We bake sugar cookies three to four times a year because the Dumpling loves decorating them. I stretched this into three separate activities: 1) making the batter ; 2) cutting the shapes and baking; and 3) decorating.
Oatmeal Cookies: This is such a versatile cookie because I can add whatever in there (nuts, chia seeds, etc.) and the Dumping would eat it without questioning.
Banana bread: This bread could be made without an electric mixer. Overly ripened bananas were easy to mash and the batter could be mixed by hand.
Rice: It is a fun water and scooping activity. I had a strainer on hand in case half the rice got poured out during the rinse.
Jello: I absolutely hate jello, but felt the need to add it to my list. I made this once with her, hated it so much, and ended up using the rest of our gelatin to make plastic.
Although I enjoyed having the Dumpling as my little sous chef, our culinary endeavors were not all picturesque Instagram moments…and they should not have to be. There were often huge messes, a few failures, and occasional bouts of frustration. If the activity went awry, I would sacrifice a small portion of the ingredients to let the Dumpling have her way while I finished up. Sometimes I questioned whether something was safe for human consumption after the Dumpling manhandled whatever she was “cooking”. Luckily no one has gotten food poisoning…yet. In the end of the day, the most important thing was not how delicious our creations were, nor how fun, educational, or enriching cooking can be; it was that I have successfully disassociated mommy’s cooking from the microwave.
For the Dumpling’s school Easter party, I made a mini activities book that I am sharing as a free printable. I love using this template because the book is printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper and is assembled without any gluing or binding — just fold and cut.
Print. Under the print options, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.
(Confession: I actually forgot this step and my books came out slightly cut off on the edges.)
Fold and cut. Cut along the solid lines and fold along the dotted lines according to the guide below. Remember to trim the rectangular border on the perimeter of the sheet as well.