Preparing meals is an important life skill for both boys and girls and there’s no better way for them to learn than from their own parents and in the comfort of their own home.
Based on my few years of experience, a great wealth of benefits are derived when the family cooks together.
For parents who are stretched, this is a great way to squeeze in some nurturing, quality time with your kids.
I have two boys. Determined to raise them as feminists, my husband and I began cooking with the kids when they turned two. This special time spent together can be made more rewarding by following some simple steps.
1. Anticipate spills, thrills and delays
From the beginning, manage your expectations.
It is inevitable that when you’re cooking with the kids, it will take double the time and effort to get meals ready. The children are still learning the ins and outs of food preparation.
Their motor skills are still developing and there might be things that they are not ready to handle on their own. Things might get messy, tip over or land on the floor.
The kids might even get cheeky and playful with the kitchen utensils. Ingredients such as chocolate chips may mysteriously disappear, so a good precaution is to double such delights when using them.
Finally, if you love pinning and instagramming, know that not everything that comes out of the oven initially will be insta-worthy.
However, take heart. As the kids progress and get older, they will become more adept and and less clumsy around the kitchen.
2. Keep calm and smile in emergencies
Burns, cuts, slips. You name it, we’ve had it. Please equip yourself with knowledge on how to use a knife and how to treat minor burns and cuts before you start cooking with the kids. This will help you stay calm when the inevitable happens.
I’ve also found it helpful after calmly treating an injury (although freaking out in my head), to take a short break before getting back to the task at hand. In my experience, they will get back to the job, although with trepidation.
Persevere and all concerned will be less fazed with the next accident. Kids are resilient and will soon learn that this is part and parcel of cooking.
Having braved through a few accidents, our eight-year-old can now independently serve up a salad, albeit with haphazardly chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.
Our six-year-old can happily make omelettes for his elder brother (who will only eat eggs in this form, and cooked by his sibling).
3. Make it exciting and seize teachable moments
When you cook with the kids, get them involved in the whole process from beginning to end. Look up recipes together and read through them. Our favourite site for recipes is Tasty.
We choose recipes based on the ease of preparation, the cost and availability of ingredients. We prepare the shopping list and buy the groceries together. They learn so many things through this process: decision making, writing lists, how to choose fresh ingredients, counting the cost, purchasing and teamwork.
We give them many reminders too.
Before we cook with the kids, we remind them that a good chef is also one that tidies up. We work alongside them to clean up as we cook and this helps the kitchen stay “reasonably” chaos free.
Part of the fun is to devise ways to reduce cleaning up. This has led to the unintended benefit of learning measurements and Maths. For example, when baking we use one large stainless-steel measuring bowl that doubles up as a mixing bowl. So, if a recipe requires 300g flour and 100g sugar, they would have to work it out that the final measurement would be 400g on the weighing machine when they add in the sugar.
4. Make room for creative expression
After making his first breakfast pancake with his father, our then five-year-old began to regularly churn out his own versions. It usually had a mix of his favourite oats, soy sauce, eggs, marmite, flour, salt, sugar, honey, olive oil and sesame oil.
In an effort not to waste food, we would fry them as pancakes and serve them with other dishes at dinner. His brother would uncharitably label these creative expressions as “elephant poo”, but some of them turned out surprisingly tasty.
In an effort to gently steer his exploratory journey, we eventually learnt how to make Pajoen (Korean pancakes).
When you cook with the kids, avoid trying to fit them in a box. Recipes are great in the beginning but should not hamper their culinary exploits. Let them explore if they have it in them. You never know where it will lead.
Give it a go!
If you’re convinced your kids are ready to work with you in the kitchen, go ahead and make arrangements for this fun, family time.
To start you off, try this fail proof puff pastry recipe that we made numerous times for grandparents, aunts and friends. It uses readily available ingredients such as frozen puff pastry, blueberries/chocolate chips, cream cheese, vanilla and sugar.
Remember: Start small and with simple recipes. Add dollops of reminders and instructions. Stir in cupfuls of life lessons. Sprinkle with kindness and love. The finished product should be filled with confidence and ready to take off in its own direction!