Our small family has just come out of a 2 week quarantine (we returned in late February from an ill-timed visit to family in Rome, Italy), just in time for school closures and social distancing to sweep the Bay Area. As we all prepare to hunker down for an undefined period of time- at least a few weeks, it seems- I thought it could be helpful to share some tips for keeping kids occupied while clearing some much needed space in the kitchen and making the most of the food we already have.
Since we had just returned from vacation, our refrigerator and freezer were actually quite empty, but perhaps it was that space and visibility that made me realize how many things I was hoarding with plans to cook them later. How many of us have frozen bananas floating around our freezer? Boxes of butter? In my case, grated coconut and 3 packs of egg roll (lumpia) wrappers!? With all this time at home, and a 2 year old in dire need of entertainment beyond watching Frozen for the 40th time, I decided that it would be a great goal to use up some of these forgotten ingredients.
We started easy with old popcorn kernels that were in a sticky old jar in the back of a cabinet. I wasn't sure if they would even pop anymore, but they definitely did and she loved every stage of the process! We have a great old 1970's stool in the kitchen that I let her sit on while I work at the stove. I let her pour in the oil, throw in handfulls of kernels, and sprinkle a little salt on top at the end (all away from the stove, of course). The popcorn was a great accompanyment to our Frozen screening that night (not joking, sadly).
Our next project took a little more time and used up a lot more of those forgotten ingredients. Sugar cookies! I pulled out our flour, a couple sticks of butter from the freezer, and the remaining bags of 3 different kinds of sugar (just me?). We don't follow recipes 100% here, but that's a part of the fun. Our daughter helped with the entire process, from dumping the flour and other ingredients into the bowl, cracking eggs, and mixing the dough, and got a little bonus workout out of it (we don't use many electric appliances in the kitchen due to space and laziness when it comes to cleaning). She helped me roll the dough into little balls, and we rolled half of them in some of the leftover sprinkles I pulled from the back of the cupboard. We left the other half of the cookies plain and saved them to be decorated the next day as another activity. She was able to eat 2 of the tiny colorful cookies right away (there was about 2/3 the amount of sugar in them that was called for as we ran out...), and the next day, we spent another hour spreading frosting from an old container I had stored in the freezer, and had defrosted overnight in the fridge, and sprinkling the other half. So much fun and focus from just a few forgotten ingredients that we already had.
Try to enjoy this extra time you have with your little ones, and in the panic of finding fun activities, take advantage of the fact that they often love "helping" with daily chores and tasks as long as they get to be close to you.