Cooking with children is one of the things i’m most often asked about as a family food writer. What recipes work the best? What kind of jobs do you give the children? How do you stay calm?!
Well after a lot of practice in this area I thought i’d put a post together to give some practical tips and advice if you’re thinking about getting your kids cooking:
It’s best to have all your equipment and ingredients laid out and ready before letting the kids loose. They’ll be impatient to get stuck in, so if you’re ready to go when you call them into the kitchen it’ll be a lot less stressful.
When I cook with my youngest, I weigh and measure all the ingredients into pots in advance so he can just tip in whatever’s next to the bowl/pan/mixer etc. With my 7 year old, weighing and measuring is good maths practice so I let him take charge of this.
Before you do anything, make them aware of the dangers in your kitchen. Make sure you show them very firmly what can hurt them and don’t leave them unattended at any point while they’re cooking. My fiercely independent youngest decided he was ready to make toast on his own once… luckily he didn’t hurt himself but that could easily have gone the other way had he decided to stick a knife in the toaster.
Point out hotspots like toasters, kettles, hobs and ovens and drum into them how easily they can burn themselves.
Knives and scissors are obviously sharp – and it’s up to you whether you want your kids to use them or not. Personally I’m happy to trust the boys with both as long as I’m constantly watching. I think it’s healthy for them to learn how to use them properly and empowers them at the same time.
There are other sharp things in the kitchen that might not seem like an immediate danger but peelers, graters and stick blenders can seriously hurt little hands too, so be mindful. Rotary graters are good for jobbing kids off with some grating.
Shaped cookies are a brilliant place to start as you can prepare the cookie dough in advance and then let the kids roll it out, cut the shapes, bake and decorate. Here’s my basic recipe for vanilla cookies to get you up and running. Other baking ideas:
It doesn’t have to be a baking bonanza though, they’ll be just as happy helping you make a family meal and will be more likely to eat it if they’ve played a part in its preparation. Here are some kid-friendly meals that have lots of potential for small hands to help with:
Go through the recipe first and break it into different tasks that are age appropriate to your child. These are the kind of jobs my boys have become pretty good at:
- cracking eggs
- sieving flour
- grating cheese
- melting butter in the microwave
- breaking up a bar of cooking chocolate into chunks
- melting chocolate in the microwave
- chopping fruit and vegetables
- peeling boiled eggs
If you’ve got more than one child helping out then make sure they’ve got their own tasks to do on their own so no one takes over or gets left out.
Make this part of the fun – give them cloths and an old kitchen spray bottle filled with water and let them clean whatever they like while you get things sorted out. I’ll job Arlo off around the room – how about the cupboard doors? The floor could do with a spray. Even the tumble dryer needs a clean! They also like hoovering and loading the dishwasher. It’s amazing how much time you can kill and they don’t even realise they’re ‘helping’. We’ll gloss over the fact that you’ll probably have to go over it all after they’ve left the room
I think it’s crucial to teach kids how to look after themselves by cooking and cleaning, as I don’t want them to leave home clueless. I also don’t want my boys to simply find a girlfriend and expect her to look after them either! It’s our duty as parents to train up these kids ready for life – what use is a pampered generation?!