My kids are now 6 and 4 – good ages to start instilling a love for the kitchen. If all else fails, at least good ages to start teaching them how to cook. At the end of the day, you don’t really have to love cooking as long as you are able to provide a well-rounded and balanced meal at least 5 days a week, and are able to get new recipes to try so that you don’t end up serving the same 4 menus year-round. I have 2 girls, and stereotypes aside, they must be able to at least provide for themselves. Again, a love for cooking is not compulsory but would make life that much easier.
Alina and I have been cooking together for a while now. It started when she was smaller and refused to eat almost anything except bananas and nuts. I realized that if she helps to make something, she will at least taste it, and then we are increasing the chances with about 50% that she will actually eat it. It worked for a while, and then she realized my plan. This coincided with a spike in my business, giving me less time to spend monkey-ing around in the kitchen. I had to ban her from the kitchen to keep her safe (and my business safe). Now Amelia is around the age I started this “experiment” with Alina, and I have a need to get the girls back into the kitchen.
I have made a career out of cooking, so what other people might practice as a hobby I get paid to do. Because I also work for myself, I can decide on my own hours (to a certain extent) as well as where I would like to work. That gives me a two-fold problem when considering I want to teach them how to cook:
1. I have to choose my timing perfectly.
I cannot try to involve them on days or nights where I also have to prepare food for other people. Kids do not understand how they are allowed to lick of one spoon, but not another, and why they can help to add spices to this pot but not to that one. Since I do most of the baking and desserts this becomes even more challenging.
2. I have to change my attitude significantly.
I want to teach them how to not only cook but how to love it as well. If I then pull a face or sigh every time I need to work in the kitchen it is counter-productive. This was a very tough lesson – do the things I hate doing in the day when they are at school. Leave the fun and easy stuff for the nights.
Teaching kids how to cook is a daunting task, one to rather not take on if you have little to no patience. You also need a fair amount of guts and nerves of steel. If you have a good dose of creativity you should be ok. It takes time and patience to teach kids how to be safe, hygienic and creative in the kitchen. But the time that you invest is worthwhile. Not only are you getting a wonderful bonding opportunity, but you are also teaching them much needed life skills. Start them young and with any luck, they’ll develop a lifelong love for the kitchen.
Children will differ in their ability to understand and undertake different cooking activities. Use your judgement as well as knowledge of the child in question to determine which tasks are suitable for your child. But remember, safety should be your first concern.
Want to give it a try? Here are my simple steps to get you started:
Make them feel comfortable
Kids as young as 18months can be introduced to the kitchen, even if only to shake the salt shaker or hit the counter with the egg spatula. For very young kids, give them some of the ingredients that you are working with to play with, e.g. flour, or cooked pasta, or dry rice. Through sensory play, they learn about the ingredients, and at least when they are old enough to “help” the ingredients won’t be entirely strange. As they then get older, they can start to help with more involved tasks, like stirring the sauce or adding the spices. Alina loves “measuring” things and then adding them to the dish, and she is a great stirrer.
Yes I know, there is so much that can go wrong. They can get burned or cut themselves or taste the wrong spice or any of a multitude of other accidents can befall them. You need to remind yourself that you are there to help them and keep them safe, but that if you do not relax they will feel your anxiety and then most probably do something stupid because they are confused and unsure. Smile, and keep your pose no matter what.
Give them the right tools
If you want them to join you baking, invest in a few plastic cookie cutters. The steel ones can cut their hands if not used correctly. Get a small rolling pin, with silicone spatulas. Smaller tools for smaller hands will allow them to get practice while reducing the chances of them injuring themselves. Check out Opinel’s Le petit chef range available through Yuppiechef for the cutest equipment designed to teach your kids how to cook, safely.
Allow them to choose
Get their input into what they would like to make. By allowing them to choose you are also increasing the chances of them wanting to finish the project. If you are scared they are going to end up choosing cookies time after time, then give them a closed set of dishes to choose from, and get them to help you cook dinner in the evenings.
Teach them the terminology
I feel about this the same way I feel about speaking in baby language. Why go through the trouble of having to teach them twice? If we don’t “ta” but rather “give” then they can also learn what saute is. Also, teaching them the correct terminology will make them feel important, again increasing the success rate. Plus how cute is it if your child uses these “big” words!
Make it an emotional experience
Cooking is very much ingrained in history, culture, politics and more. By teaching your child your family recipes you can give them a glimpse into their past, especially if you can tell them stories or anecdotes. You can include dishes from other cultures, explaining what makes them unique, even using dishes to explain to kids about festivals or other culturally significant times/activities. Bring in nutrition, even math and science. Cooking should be an experience.
Keep your eye on the prize
In most cases, the aim is to give your kids a life skill, to ensure you send well-rounded and well-balanced individuals out into the world. Not to have the next Junior Masterchef. Keep reminding yourself of this. It will make it less devastating when you have to throw away a pot of sauce because they dumped the whole salt pot into it, or a cake flopped because they opened the oven door. If you manage to bring up kids who can look after themselves, while not despising every moment they have to spend in the kitchen, I would say you have done a good job.
So get out there and start cooking with your kids – they will thank you one day. And you will also love the one or two nights a week you might get off since they can boil their own pasta.
If you have any other tips to get kids involved, then please share them with us!