This is the first in a series of articles for parents and carers about the skills I think children need to develop around cooking
When it comes to cooking with our children it is easy to get into the habit of baking with our children rather than cooking with them. Teaching our children cooking skills is vital so here are some thoughts about the sorts of skills which will give them a head start when they are left to their own devices in the kitchen.
Before starting any food preparation children should learn that they need to wash their hands, not wet them, wash them. I recently talked to a group of 4 and 5 year olds about ‘painting their hands with soap’ (making sure the bubbles go over all their fingers, their thumbs, their palms and the backs of their hands) and then ‘washing off the paint’ This makes a game out of handwashing but it also helps them understand that the whole hand needs washing and ALL the soap has to come off. Then, encourage them to dry them properly – wiping their hands on their trousers or skirts is not the way to do it before food prep. Be light hearted about it.
My boys also learnt pretty quickly that they would be banished to wash their hands again if they picked their nose or their ears when they were cooking! Sneezing and coughing are also not a great way to make healthy food!
Listening to an adult
There are lots of things in a kitchen which are great fun but there are also things which could hurt them. They need to learn to listen otherwise the activity won’t be nearly as much fun.
Not touching things they have not been asked to touch
Again this comes down to safety but also to learning how a recipe works. If you put the pasta in the saucepan with them raw mince, you are going to have a very different dish to the intended spaghetti bolognese. Not touching this they have not been asked to touch is definitely a transferable skill!
My dad is an excellent stirrer but this is not the sort of stirring children need to learn to be good in the kitchen! It’s quite an art to thoroughly mix ingredients, be patient and, if necessary, hold the spoon with them rather than just doing it yourself.
Measuring out ingredients
Depending on the age of the child, they can get involved in the weighing out. All children can get involved in measuring though. If they are very young, you can pre-measure the ingredients into bowls and then they can spoon the ingredient in, counting the spoonfuls.
Some children will love to get messy, others will hate it. Find the activities which suit the child but don’t be afraid of gently pushing them to try to do something new. If they won’t stick their hands in the mince and onions to make meatballs, get them to help put the pre-made meatballs on a baking tray (a cold one!) ready for cooking.
The language of recipes
I remember an early date when my boyfriend, now husband, was rescued by his housemate whilst trying to cook me a mushroom soup for a Valentine’s Day meal. He almost did what many have done before him, put a whole bulb of garlic into the soup instead of a clove. The result could have been interesting!
There are lots of words in recipes which will expand your child’s vocabulary like whisk, beat, fold, dice. There are also lots of abbreviations to get used to tbsp (tablespoon) and tsp (teaspoon), oz (ounce), g (gram). The art of reading a recipe is a key skill for children and adults alike. Being able to read a recipe opens up volumes of recipe books with endless inspiration for meals.
There are many more skills but I think this is enough for now, part 2 to follow. Try to have these skills in mind when you are cooking with a child. The end result might not be amazing but think of what they have learnt in the process. Remember cooking is part of play, it needs to be fun (and quite messy!).
I’d love to hear about what you cook with your children.