Recipe for successful cooking with children
Encouraging kids in the kitchen may test your patience but it pays off in the long term
For instance rolling out “just gets incredibly messy” and she finds, when the two of them are helping, it is best to weigh baking ingredients beforehand otherwise it gets too fraught.
Sinéad doesn’t give either of them sharp knives yet but lets them manage with plastic ones.
Whenever a recipe requires cubed butter, she will get them to chop that up.“The best way to get butter to room temperature is to give it to a two-year-old! It will melt pretty quickly!”
Caitriona Redmond, who has similar-aged boys to Fox, also makes cooking with them part of everyday life in their kitchen at home in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.
“I don’t have a situation where I say ‘right kids we’re going to cook today’, that’s not how it works.
“Every day in the house I cook; every day the kids get involved and every day we all eat together.”
Having been made redundant from her PA job soon after the birth of her first son, Eoin, nearly five years ago, Redmond was faced with “a ridiculously small budget to feed the family”.
She knew that she could probably do it all with cheap, processed foods but that is not what she wanted to feed herself or the family.
“I would prefer to have more control over what we eat,” she explains, so they started growing some things themselves.
Cooking from scratch
“Cooking from scratch does save you money but it does involve time,” says Redmond who shares her experiences of cooking on a tight budget on her Wholesome Ireland blog and is just finishing a book on the subject, which will be published next year. She also writes a monthly newsletter for mykidstime.ie.
Cooking with Eoin and his 20-month-old brother Fionn as part of normal routine is much easier, she suggests, than putting too much expectation on yourself with an occasional great baking session.
A few weeks ago she set aside time to do cupcake decoration with the boys especially for the blog – “what a disaster”, she recalls.
“I created an artificial environment – by laying everything out.”
The boys picked up on a sense of the out-of-the-ordinary. “At one stage Eoin found a pair of goggles, filled them with sprinkles and put them on his face...”
But, on more humdrum days, Eoin’s favourite activities in the kitchen are peeling vegetables, chopping and doing the washing up. He knows about keeping clear of the hot hob and he is learning about sharp knives.
“I think it is important to teach them to use knives properly,” says Redmond.
“I would be of the opinion that you can’t just mollycoddle kids when you are parenting. You are going to supervise him and you are going to keep knives locked away – but I don’t see the harm in teaching him how to use the knife and how to chop things.
“It is a life skill,” she adds. “When I was his age I would have been taught to do these things myself.”
If, unlike these families above, your children are not already dab hands in the kitchen, where do you start – or encourage them to do a bit more?
Cooking has become “cool”, says cookery tutor Victoria Mackechnie and children want to get into the kitchen. So maybe it’s the parents stopping them.
“It does take time and they do need to be supervised,” she says but parents often make it harder by taking all the work on themselves.
Sense of ownership
Mackechnie, who trained in Ballymaloe, founded Kids in the Kitchen after giving up her job in finance and started taking her travelling kitchen into schools to offer cooking as an extra-curricular activity. She has also worked in Deis schools on programmes supported by the Ireland Funds, teaching children and parents how to cook nutritious, low-cost dishes.