For Kids & Families

Cooking with the kids: 4 secrets to some amazing family time

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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

It will look nothing like the pictures in the recipe books, but will taste delicious. How do you like the look of our blueberry pastries?

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

Some serious Jedi master cutting skills at work.

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

Cream cheese is another ingredient that may end up in the children’s mouth before it reaches the mixing bowl.

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

Neil created this recipe of oats, butter, strawberry jam, ikan bilis, tau sa peah, water. Heated for two minutes in the microwave – all his favourite ingredients. This was for his friends’ friends in preparation for his playdate.

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.

Once our own kids were familiar with pastry it was easy for them to confidently make with us this vegetarian cheese and onion roll  and also this  beef sausage roll.

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!

Tze Yeng worked in advertising and made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised chaos.

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