Getting Kids In The Kitchen
Is a great idea for many, many reasons.
Obviously there is learning to cook, a skill that we all need and when your kid leaves home, (I know, we don’t want to think about that yet but it will happen someday), we want them to be prepared and have an arsenal of recipes that they can survive on.
So what do they learn when they are helping out in the kitchen? Much of it depends on you and what you talk about when you are preparing the dinner but generally, they learn how to handle food. What just needs washing, what needs to be peeled, the best way to chop certain things, how fresh food feels, smells and tastes.
They learn about seasoning and the different cooking processes, why you need to add flour to thicken a sauce or the magic of onions getting sweeter when you cook them. Which foods go together well and which don’t.
Then there is the process of following a recipe, reading and doing each step, one at a time. Weighing and measuring, pouring and mixing. And if you live in a country where many western foods are not widely not available, they learn how to substitute items and that it is perfectly OK to do so. ‘The recipe he is preparing here called for pita bread, we couldn’t get any so we used tortillas)
Concentration, another to add to the list and how to handle a knife.
A few tips:
- Show them how to handle the knife properly, how to hold the handle and how to tuck their fingers in.
- Make sure the knife is sharp, this means it is less likely to slip and will be easier to cut with.
- Make sure the child is at a comfortable height for cutting, they may need to stand or kneel on a chair.
- If they are not comfortable using a sharp knife, don’t force it. Maybe hold the knife with them and do it together or you do the chopping and let them watch. Ebi-kun didn’t want to do the thinly sliced tomatoes so the sous chef (me) was asked to do it.
Letting the kids in the kitchen also means they are getting a better idea of where their food is coming from and how it is made. We often discuss how the produce gets to the supermarket, talk about pesticides, GM products and the pros and cons of organic fruit and veg. It is much easier to bring these topics into conversation if you are in the kitchen.
Allowing the child to decide on the menu, help with the shopping and to prepare the meal themselves is a real confidence booster. It is worth getting a couple of quality kids cook books, we really like Pretend Soup for very easy recipes (suitable for toddlers up) and Honest Pretzels which has some great healthy recipes, both books are by Mollie Katzen and are written and illustrated in an easy format. A lot of kids recipe books are just filled with cookies and cakes, so either find one with ‘real’ food or take your child through the steps of a family favourite.
A few more tips:
- Always allow twice the time or more that it would take you to make the meal. I could have knocked up this salad and pita rolls and dressing in say 15 minutes, it took Ebi-kun nearly triple that. That was no problem because I allowed the extra time but if you don’t everything will go pear shaped, you will start getting stressed and hurrying the child, child will get annoyed and it will all end in disaster… ask me how I know!
- Allow them to make mistakes and to learn from them.
- If you are measuring flour and the such like, put the bowl on a baking tray to catch any spills, it makes it easier to clean up.
- Talking of clean up, in good old Montessori style, the job is not completed until everything is cleaned up and put away – yep, that means they need to help with the washing up too.
And finally – always thank them for the lovely meal, tell them how you appreciate their effort and how well they did. You may well find that after you have prepared a meal they have enjoyed, they will do the same to you… go on, ask me how I know 😀
Does your child help out in the kitchen? Do they have a favourite recipe, please share in the comments section.