Today, I continue to share (three weeks later) more behind the scenes of how we cook Indian food in our Montessori inspired kitchen with multiple children. Many have asked me how I manage to always have my very young children in the kitchen cooking with me! I hope this post answers some more of the how, along with my last post on this topic where I talked about Indian spices and how I make them available to my kids in our kitchen. I also shared my very own kitchen hack which you can apply to any cuisine! This week, I wanted to give you a peek into our pantry where my 4-year-old and two-year-old twins are able to access most of the key ingredients for our Indian meals and other non-Indian meals as well. A Montessori kitchen does not require any fancy set up or any big purchases. It actually just requires a simplified, organized and easy to access space. This ends up resulting in so many child-led activities in the kitchen! Pouring, transferring, measuring, and of course, cooking!
Some of our favorite Indian meals the kids like to help prepare are: Khichdi (mixed lentils, Big Brother can practically make this on his own – it’s amazing! And the twins are almost there too, thanks to my good old spice mix!), Daal & Rice, Moong & Rice, Daal Dhokli, Sev Usad, Muthiya and of course just making atta for the Indian staple Rotli (Indian tortilla). Each of these requires a different combination of pantry items so it is important that they have the right tools to access them to be an active part of our kitchen!
Our pantry has been a great place for Big Brother to have a bit more freedom to cooking ingredients without his twin brothers disturbing his work. Indian foods like the ones I mentioned above require a lot of various flours, lentils, and grains. Behind the pantry doors, he is able to independently select ingredients, pour, mix, transfer what we need and bring them to our main work area. When I am able to supervise, I let the toddler twins into the pantry and they too have access to some of our key ingredients. But this is not always possible since I can’t always supervise them with my 5-month-old in tow.
Also, we did not always have a pantry! Life with pantry has been a recent addition. When Big Brother was a toddler, we had a dedicated drawer with small portions of these ingredients for him to access. But I won’t lie; I love having a pantry now!
Here is the view into our pantry and some details about our space that has allowed my oldest son to lead in meal preparation independently. The twins are starting to do the same – it’s been so amazing to see them grow their interest, understand the process and order in meal prep and enjoy the fruits of their purposeful work.
Accessibility: Items that they use are available on the lower shelves, enabling them to access them on their own. One shelf is at eye level and the other is right above that one. I also dedicated their area right when you enter the pantry. This eliminates the need to go all the way in and they are not sidetracked by all the other stuff (although this does still happen when all of them are in there at once). On the lower shelf, are the medium sized containers filled with items they most often cook with. For the toddlers, this includes the pre-mixed lentils and oat flour. Big Brother has access to the shelf above this one, which includes ALL our lentils, grains, and flour. In the first picture, one of the twins is accessing a container on the lower shelf. In the second picture, Big Brother is accessing a container on the shelf right above the lower shelf.
Utensils/Tools: This includes mixing bowls, measuring cups, spoons, spatulas for mixing and all the unique Indian instruments. All of the kids are able to reach these items in our drawers but I do keep some of the basic tools in the pantry near their containers for easier access. I am also making some changes to our kitchen space to give them access to MORE (updates on that coming at some point). These tools/utensils are also some of the items they like to put away after the dishes have been washed too, so it’s great that they know where to find them.
Workspace: Having access to a small workspace in the pantry has been helpful for their tiny bodies. When they have space to set things down quickly, it allows them to keep their workflow. I keep a bit of space near their containers on the shelf for them to place a mixing bowl; they will often use the floor too. This allows them to easily set their bowl down while opening jars, transferring ingredients.
Containers: Like most kitchens, we have a LOT of containers in our pantry. But for Indian cooking, I feel like we have even more given all the various flours, lentils, and grains required in Indian cooking. Add a place for storing the Indian spices and you’ve got a full pantry! For our most popularly used kid’s pantry items, I use containers/jars with a large enough opening, that are easy to open, close, lift and move with tiny hands. I love my Sistema, snap lid containers for our kids pantry items. They always have various sizes available at our local Homegoods/Ross/Marshall’s type stores. They are also lightweight for both my toddlers and Big Brother to use and they keep some of those popular Indian pantry items tightly sealed and fresh with airtight lids.
Self- care items: Big Brother also has access to his own vitamins and sometimes a small snack/dessert item). The small, glass bottles you see in some of the pictures with the red caps (as seen below) are used to store his vitamins, or sometimes some amount of nuts (walnuts, almonds etc). He is able to help himself to these items when appropriate. Vitamins he knows to take after breakfast and after dinner. He will sometimes stop in to grab a couple nuts to munch on after dinner too. The nut bottle was in the wash when I took these pictures but it’s usually right next to his vitamins.
Cooking with 3 kids in the kitchen may seem overwhelming, or even crazy at times but it really isn’t so bad when they are able to help themselves and as a result (SOMETIMES) help me out too. If you just joined, check out my other post, here, on some ideas on how we work in our Montessori inspired kitchen with twin toddlers and Big Brother.
What’s in your pantry? Are there simple changes you can make so your kids can easily and independently participate in meal prep and cooking? As always keep sharing!