Potatoes make a serious culinary showing during November and December. Between their shredded state in Hanukkah latkes, the sweet variety at Kwanzaa dinners, and their mashed version at Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, these little spuds show up in many kitchens. So if you are looking for a seasonally appropriate book, while avoiding the common holiday and winter themes, Potato Joe by Keith Baker is a perfect choice!
Potato Joe is an interpretation of the traditional One Potato, Two Potato rhyme, featuring Joe, Watermelon Mo, Tomato Flo, a big black crow (you get the trend here?!) and several other unnamed lively potatoes. This counting book was a big hit with several of the toddlers in our group. The developmentally pronounceable words (Joe, Mo, Tic Tac Toe, etc.) stimulate language development and story-time participation. Of course, counting and numbers are also being reinforced, but I think the cute little potato faces are a draw for the little ones too.
While we gathered to read the book, we passed around several washed raw baking potatoes. Each kid essentially grabbed a potato and held onto it while we read, rather than actually passing the potato. This provided a (good) distraction while we read for little ones who need a tactile experience or who just weren’t interested in sitting still (know any toddlers like that?)!
After we read, it was time to mash some potatoes. We put out several large foil pans. We used turkey roasting pans (our meeting was right before Thanksgiving so these were readily available in stores), but any large pan or tub would do. I’d suggest a reusable plastic tub to be a little more eco-friendly (although I do reuse my aluminum pans for play too). We also provided several potato mashers and spoons along with previously baked and cooled potatoes. Each parent in our group brought a potato that they had baked and cooled, but we accidentally discovered a little “hack” that makes this sensory activity even a bit more fun and the potatoes easier to mash. One of the parents in our group had several left-over baked potatoes that she had frozen. She thawed the potatoes and brought them for this activity. We found that the frozen and thawed potatoes had added moisture that made the them easier to mash and just generally mushier. You could add some water to the smashed potatoes too if you don’t have the forethought or freezer space to freeze and thaw several baked potatoes!
Although some inadvertent tasting was a natural part of this process (a good reason to use taste-safe sensory bin ingredients at this age), our intent was not that these potatoes be a snack. If you only had one child smashing a potato, encouraging him or her to eat what was mashed wouldn’t be a problem, but we had several kids all mashing together and lots of runny noses, so it seemed best to provide a different snack!
We provided roasted potatoes for snack and used THIS recipe as inspiration. Here’s how to adapt it for a toddler book club:
- Cube the potatoes into small bite sized pieces.
- Use as many potatoes as seem appropriate for your sized group. I used about one potato per attendee and had almost half left over!
- Mix the potatoes with oil, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, dried parsley, garlic, and parmesan (leave off for dairy allergy). I eye-ball ingredients, but recommend erring on side of less seasoning, especially, salt, pepper, and garlic for the 2 and under group!
- Bake in a 400 degree oven on a lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes and then toss and check. Check periodically during cooking time. You want the potatoes soft and starting to brown, but not so crispy that they are hard for little mouths to chew.
- Be sure to cool before serving. As an added bonus, I discovered that you can make these roasted potatoes ahead, refrigerate, and then reheat on a baking sheet with a little extra oil if needed and they crisp right back up!
- Serve and enjoy! (These were a hit with the adults and preschooler in our family too!)
If this book, activity, and snack is a hit with your little one like it was at our book club meeting, you might find that you have a little helper as you prepare your next potato-based dish!