There are so many reasons to get kids involved in cooking!
From important skills like basic maths (measuring ingredients) and comprehension (reading recipes), through to building self-esteem and increasing their likelihood to try new foods and teaching them an essential life skill – the value of getting kids involved in the kitchen really can’t be understated.
In our interview with Madhur Jaffrey, the legend of Indian cuisine (and huge believer in getting kids cooking early) shared her three top cooking tips parents should teach their children. Her sage advice is hugely useful, but what if you’re not such a confident cook in the first place? Or perhaps you simply can’t imagine getting the kids involved without chaos breaking out and hours of cleanup…
Don’t worry – help is at hand. We’ve put together these 9 ‘survival tips’ to help you make cooking with kids a pleasure that’s as rewarding and fun for you as it is for them. You’ll have raised you own little foodies in no time…
1. Embrace the mess
Sorry, this isn’t going to be a picture perfect experience. If you have kids, you’ll know full well that they can make mess at any age, at any time, out of anything. Give them flour and yes, they will make it snow indoors. Give them tomatoes and they will make them explode in their tiny, mess-loving hands.
That’s just the way this goes – so don’t wear your best clothes, and try not to lose it if they have a few spillages. It’s all worth it in the end, we promise.
2. Find recipes full of child-friendly activities
There are some things kids – especially young ones – really shouldn’t be doing in the kitchen. As a rule of thumb, anything involving fire, very sharp knives, or blenders is a no-no for little ones for hopefully very obvious reasons.
However, there are plenty of recipes full of child-friendly activities they can get stuck into. For example, you could let bread chicken and make a dipping sauce in this family favourite Almond Crusted Chicken Nuggets & Mash recipe (just make sure they don’t taste it if they’re handling raw chicken).
Or have them help with measuring out and mixing ingredients in our Easy Peanut Butter Cookies recipe.
3. Get them to help with little tasks first
Let’s face it – your children are not going to make a perfectly fluffy French soufflé the first time they set foot in a kitchen.
Get them involved in some easier (low-risk) cooking activities first of all. Madhur Jaffrey recommends letting them do small tasks like washing potatoes or breaking the ends off green beans when they’re very young, then pressing out dough with a rolling pin when they’re a little older.
It’s best to have them doing activities which contribute to a whole recipe at first, rather than a full recipe – they’ll feel proud to be part of a cooking team!
4. Let them taste as they go
Cooking is a full-on sensory experience. It’s packed with smells, sights, textures and (of course) tastes! Letting children try different ingredients while they’re helping out in the kitchen makes them less likely to freak out when they see the end result served up on their plate.
Of course, it’s not a good idea to let them try anything. Keep an eye on them if they’re handling potentially harmful ingredients like raw egg, make sure they don’t put their hands in their mouth if they’ve been touching raw meat, and get them to wash their hands thoroughly before handling other ingredients.
5. Help them confront their food fears
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood”, Marie Curie once said. This couldn’t be more true than with food. Letting children learn about how food is prepared and where certain ingredients come from will make them less likely to kick off when they’re faced with a plate full of what was once their worst nightmare. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to persuade them to…like broccoli. Honestly, this is a possibility. Be excited.
6. Easy does it
Even if they’re only helping out with a few steps, remove any lingering expectations that your child will be the Mozart of cooking by choosing simple recipes to make with them.
Look for recipes that are easy and quick but fun too – like our Super Simple Chocolate Mousse recipe or give our Hot Chocolate On A Stick recipe a go (it’s not just for Christmas, we promise). For something a little healthier, give one of these 3 healthy desserts you can make in 10 minutes a try.
7. Let them choose
Pick out a selection of recipes that you think your kids can help out with, then let them pick which one they want to cook. This way, they’ll feel more invested in the process (and be less likely to get bored and wander off to draw on the walls in another room).
8. Misteaks happen
We learn from our mistakes. Kids, with their sponge-like brains, learn even more quickly than adults. Set a good example and don’t (literally) cry over spilled milk, and they will follow suit. If they get the recipe wrong or the end result isn’t picture perfect – that’s ok.
Learn to love their wonky homemade pizza for its imperfections, just like you love your kids for theirs.
9. Have fun!
This goes for you and your kids. Cheer up, you’re making cupcakes.
Do you have any tips for cooking with kids that we’ve missed out? If so, let us know about them in the comments. At the end of the day, as long as you’re helping your kids to learn about cooking and they’re having fun, then it’s time well spent.
Take a look at our 7 fun, foodie activities for kids post for more ideas to keep little ones entertained!