Recipe for successful cooking with children
Encouraging kids in the kitchen may test your patience but it pays off in the long term
Sinead Fox with her children Ciaran age 4 and Cathal age 2 cooking at their home in Co Wexford. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
As soon as toddler Cathal Fox could stand on a chair, he was helping his mother and older brother with the cooking. Sinéad Fox certainly believes in starting them young. Her eldest child Ciaran, who will be five in September, is already making up his own recipes – with the help of a granny who encourages his culinary creations.
“When they go on sleepovers, she lets Ciaran have the run of the ingredients press. He will say he wants ‘two eggs, five spoons of flour and some butter . . .’
“She might encourage him to use a little more flour and then she will let him produce his cake in whatever tin he chooses. They are not always edible – but they often are.”
While the boys’ baby sister, Laoise, may have been born with a wooden spoon in her mouth too, at just seven weeks old she is going to have to bide her time before she gets in on the action.
“I think it is more important to involve them in the everyday cooking than making cupcakes once a month,” says Fox, nailing where many of us go wrong.
We see cooking with children as an occasional, entertaining experiment rather than routine.
Pressed for time and tired at the end of the day, it can be hard enough to cook from scratch never mind involve “helpful” children at the same time. (It’s a Murphy’s Law of parenting that as soon as the children reach an age where they can be really useful around the house, they lose all interest in doing chores of any kind.)
And there is not a lot of culinary education to be had in heating up an oven-ready pizza or micro-waving a ready-meal.
But, considering that Fox not only works as a solicitor but also commutes to Dublin from her home in Gorey, Co Wexford, excuses like “strapped for time” or “just too exhausted” sound rather feeble in her presence. She somehow finds time not only to cook with her small children but blog about it too.
Bumbles of Rice, which she started a year ago, was a response to people wondering how she managed to provide home-cooking for the family considering the demands on her time. The secret lies in organisation, batch cooking and freezer-friendly recipes.
And the writing of it was the “something else” in her life she needed for herself – independent of work and children, even though the latter feature heavily.
“The minute I start cooking dinner my almost three-year-old is pushing a chair across the kitchen saying ‘I help you, I help you’,” she explains.
So she gives both boys jobs to do even if they don’t always need to be done, “to keep them busy and keep them involved” while she is doing other parts of the cooking.
“I have found it is a great way to amuse the kids – if you are trying to cook the dinner and they are ‘Mama I want this’ and ‘Mama I want that’ – give them a plastic knife and the mushrooms to cut, or the dead end of the celery that you are going to throw away and a dinner knife – they’ll get busy.”
It is more effective than trying to fight them off. “Cooking [with children] is good fun but you need incredible energy,” she acknowledges.
However, there are things at their age that she considers not worth the cleaning up required.