Recipe for successful cooking with children
Encouraging kids in the kitchen may test your patience but it pays off in the long term
Her experience is that by giving children control and a sense of ownership, they are much more enthusiastic – not only about the cooking but also the eating of what they have made.
She understands the “dread” of some parents but stresses that letting children loose in the kitchen is a “good investment in the long term”.
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Get in the right frame of mind
If you’re over-tired, irritated and pressed for time, forget it. Cooking with children requires energy, patience and a tolerance of mess.
Open up recipe selection
Give children a bit of control by allowing them to choose the recipe. Parents do need to assess the complexity of it but “go in with an open mind”, advises Victoria Mackechnie.
Getting halfway through the recipe and finding some vital ingredient is missing is a serious blow to any child’s enthusiasm, so make sure you have everything before you start.
Once a recipe or two are chosen, get them to write the list of ingredients needed and ideally go off to the shops together to pick out ones you don’t have in stock.
Pay attention to presentation
Children want their creations to turn out just like the photo in the recipe book so props and a little styling may be required – as well as cheerful assurances that they’ll taste just as good even if they don’t look quite the same.
They love “mini” versions of staples such as shepherd’s pie, quiche and fish pie, which can be made in ramekins.
Grow their own
Even if it is only a pot of herbs outside the kitchen door, try to grow something with children that they can use in cooking – “it drives home the ‘farm to fork’ idea,” says Mackechnie.
Set ground rules
Insist they always wash their hands before they start and, ideally, have their own aprons on. Smaller children need something safe to stand on.
Be time aware
Mackechnie’s cut-off cooking time for a recipe is 30 minutes – so that you can get in and out of the kitchen within an hour. “Any longer than that and you’ve lost the children,” she comments.
But that is in a classroom – at home, children could go off and amuse themselves with something else while the dish cooks longer in the oven.
Keep your hands off
Suppress your inner control-freak and resist the temptation to jump in and do some steps for older children. Mackechnie understands the nervousness about, say, letting them use sharp knives but if they are taught how to chop things properly from an early age it’s a skill learnt for life.
Enlist them in the washing up
It’s a matter of principle not to let them scarper out the door when it’s time for the washing up and/or loading of the dishwasher, even if it sometimes seems more bother than it’s worth.