In my last blog I talked about why kids should learn to cook, and I shared with you five reasons why. If you have not yet seen this post yet please click here. In this blog I follow up and give concrete tips on how to get them cooking and more involved in the kitchen.
As a mum myself I know how hectic meal times can be and the last thing you want is little hands and feet around you, asking endless questions and making messes that you will inevitably have to clean up. With these 5 tips though the positive impacts of teaching your kids about food and how to cook will outweigh the stress. I often found the stress for me was not my son being in the kitchen, but what to do with him when he was in there. Once I figured out a useful way to get him involved it became fun and engaging and strangely made my life easier.
Parents with kids, that have taken my cooking classes, have said that they are amazed and impressed by how confident and eager their kids are in the kitchen. One father shared that he and his wife get to sit back sometimes and watch their daughter prepare a whole meal with only minimal assistance. “She gets excited planning the meal, searching the recipes and preparing it.” And as parents they get to sit back and enjoy the output. Food and cooking for others is one of the truest acts of love and kids understand and take a lot of joy in this.
Below are my top five tips on how to get kids cooking and still keep your sanity.
Pick the right time
Teaching your kids to cook requires patience and a clear head. Don’t bring them into the kitchen when you are full throttle into something, feeling panicked or rushed. Schedule a time when you have nothing else on, no errands or things to distract you. You want to be calm! Kids feed off our energy and if we are relaxed and excited they will mimic that. The weekends are a perfect time for cooking together- when you don’t have a million other things to do, and family time is abundant and getting together in the kitchen is more manageable. If your children are not in school and you are home then set a time during the day that works for you. When my son was a toddler I cooked with him shortly after he woke up from his nap, giving me time to set up the kitchen and ingredients and a few precious minutes to have a tea or a little rest before getting into an activity with him.
“Schedule a time when you know you have nothing else on, no errands or things that might distract you.”
Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning and organisation are key when you first start cooking with your kids. Spontaneity comes when they are older and more confident in the kitchen.
So what do I mean by plan? Plan a good time as discussed in point 1, but also plan what you are making. Pick a recipe and get all the necessary ingredients ahead of time. Use the planning time as an opportunity to engage with your kids about food outside of the kitchen. (See point 5 for more information) Take them to the grocery store with you and talk to them about the ingredients. Look at recipe books with them and give them some choices to pick from. Ask them what they would like to try.
And most important plan to have your plans not work out according to plan. Even the best-laid plans go awry with kids. Be relaxed and prepared for mishaps, messes and recipes gone wrong. This is okay. Trust me! This is how we all learn- through trial and error and what a better way for our kids to learn that then to see us in action.
“Be relaxed and prepared for mishaps, messes and recipes gone wrong. This is okay. Trust Me!
Assign age appropriate tasks
Children can start helping in the kitchen as early as 18 months, with complete supervision and safe measures in place. And before that they can be in the kitchen with you in their bouncer or high chair playing with food, tasting things and watching what you are doing. What you give your children to do will depend on their developmental age and ability, but you can get them to ‘help you in the kitchen’ right from the start. We all thrive on feeling useful and children are no different. They love doing what mommy or daddy do, and get a boost of confidence being given small tasks, getting applauded and encouraged to do more.
With younger children you can give them safe and easy tasks like help you measure and weigh ingredients out, mixing ingredients together, mashing, sprinkling decorations on cakes or cookies, etc. You do not need any special equipment to cook with kids. There are a lot of cute kids utensils out there, but if you already have kid spoons and forks to feed them just use that. Little forks can be used in place of a whisk and spoons can be used as a mixing spoon. Use their small bowls as a mixing bowl and get them to imitate what you are doing. Toddlers love feeling independent and giving them little tasks increases autonomy while you are comforted that they are safe.
“Food and cooking for others is one of the truest acts of love and kids understand and take joy in this.”
By 2 years old you can get them more involved by talking to them about what you are cooking, planning cooking activities with them, showing them things in the grocery store and asking them what they would like to make. Have them smell and taste different ingredients- get them to identify them and talk about the nutritional value of what they are touching. Even if they don’t want to try it you are exposing them to a variety of raw and cooked ingredients and their palates and senses will automatically evolve.
As your children get older the tasks that you give them in the kitchen will become more complex and challenging. They might be able to start cutting things, or using the stove and other equipment and utensils. (Always make sure that you are supervising them with tasks where they might potentially get hurt). At this age it is useful to buy kitchen knives that are appropriate for kids. Especially if they are keen cooks. Talk to them in more detail about recipes, how to follow a recipe and how to create a meal plan. After the age of 7 you can give them the responsibility of researching recipes, planning meals and organising ingredients. Get them to help you in the grocery store and give them more tasks where they are independent. MOMables and BBC Good Food have some more in depth information on cooking for specific ages.
Eventually kids with good kitchen skills will grow into young adults that are competent and confident natural cooks, with an understanding of how to use a variety of ingredients to create meals that nourish them.
Find the right recipe
Pick recipes that are simple, especially when they are younger. Find recipes that have few ingredients but are ones that kids can play with, touch, taste and smell. By doing this cooking becomes an experience rather than a necessity. And cooking with them does not necessarily have to involve ‘cooking’. It can be spreading some peanut butter on bread and topping it with berries or mixing together yoghurt and some compote.
What you cook with your toddler will be different from the recipes that you make with your 9 year old. When I started cooking with my son he was just 2 or 3 years old and we made simple things like oat cookies and pancakes and his task was to mould the cookies or whisk the pancake mix. I made a quick pizza recipe and had him squish the dough together and dress the pizza with toppings. We made it fun and made faces out of the veggies. Or I would let him sit on the counter and put fruits and veggies into the blender for me to make a juice or some ice pops. (Do not let young children turn on blenders or play with electrical equipment) Use holiday times and special days to make fun themed recipes- like Halloween or Easter.
As my son has started to mature and grow the recipes that I cook with him are more complex and detailed. He tends to choose the recipes that he wants to cook now and where once he was fussy and hesitant to try different foods now he is more open. As kids grow, so will their skills, focus and interest. Nowadays there are so many kids out there who can out cook adults with their skills and knowledge. You only have to read the many kids blogs or watch Junior Master Chef to see the talent out there.
“Eventually kids with good kitchen skills will grow into young adults that are competent and confident natural cooks, with an understanding of how to use a variety of ingredients to create meals that nourish them.
Teach your kids about food outside of the kitchen
Teaching your kids about food is not limited to the kitchen. Use every opportunity you can to educate your children about food, where food comes from and how to eat well. Take them to farms to forage and pick vegetables and fruits and talk to them about the food chain, sustainability and food waste. Farmers markets are fantastic and this is the season for it. Make it a family event and get them trying and tasting new things.
If you have a garden or a windowsill grow stuff- teach them to garden and to love growing and cooking their own food. When you take them to restaurants talk to them about what’s on the menu, the different cuisines and ingredients that chefs cook with. Take them to the grocery store with you and use that time to explore what is there. Choose a new ingredient to cook with every time you go to the grocery store so that you can cook new and exciting recipes and expand their palates.
Need some inspiration?
Have a look at the kids recipes on my Instagram feed. I highly recommend my baked meatballs, the healthier banana bread, spinach pici pasta and much more.
Better yet why not get in touch and book one of my cooking classes. Cooking classes are a great way to open up your children to different recipes, skills and techniques. I have some fantastic ones coming up this half term and we will be making some yummy autumn and Halloween inspired meals and treats. Alternatively I can also do private cooking classes and consultations in your own home. See what I offer: