Monday, 17 January 2011

Cooking with your kids

One of my Facebook friends asked for simple recipes to prepare with her children. I suggested that she give the 'quick and plenty' recipe a go, but (as I advised her) kids can manage a lot more than people give them credit for.

When my younger son was three years old, he and a friend appeared twice in a magazine column about cooking with kids. You can see them in the picture above. And they didn't arrange slices of fruit to look like a face, either. They made cheesy scalloped potatoes and a pear custard tart.

As a way of keeping my kids from acting up during the weekly grocery shopping trip when they were little, I gave them each a £5 budget with which they had to buy the ingredients for a meal for the four of us. They could ask for as much advice and help as they liked. It was interesting to see how they prepared and planned for their meals, and how they worked out their budget. This was an integral part of the process and it involved all manner of very important learning skills.

Then they each had to take charge of the kitchen one evening as we prepared that meal. I did all the 'hot work and sharp work', but they got to call the shots. Of course, I offered guidance and so on, but it was their opportunity to be creative and experimental. They tried things I would never have combined, and some results worked better than others. But there is nothing to compare with their sense of accomplishment as the family sat down to a meal they had prepared.

There are two key pieces of advice I would give if you want to start involving your children in the kitchen:
  1. There will be mess. Lots of mess. Accept that and deal with it...afterwards
  2. They won't do things as quickly or as well as you could. Get over it. Don't be tempted to take over from them. They will learn far more from doing it imperfectly themselves than from watching you do it brilliantly.
Have you ever noticed how the kids of competent cooks are very seldom any good in the kitchen? I have come to the conclusion that it is because those competent cooks find it very hard to let their kids loose in their kitchens to make a mess of both the kitchen and the recipe.


  1. I think this is just wonderful! The idea of giving them a budget and having them plan and shop for a meal is brilliant. I remember my mother letting me cook even when I was small, and I must have made terrible messes. More parents should realize there is a point, if you can catch them when they're young enough, that kids think 'work' is 'fun'. (I liked vacuuming, too, although to this day I'm not especially good at it.) BTW there's a great "Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls", still in print, that has recipes for 'real' food. I still have mine.

  2. @Jane I have a few kiddies' cookbooks, too. One of them is brilliantly designed to be able to stand up on its own. Such a clever idea.

    The kids used to use them for inspiration, and sometimes followed the recipes. But they also took recipes out of my 'adult' cookbooks, asked me to give them the recipes for my own creations, or just made stuff up.

    My younger son in particular, liked to make up recipes and give them weird names. One dish, which involved chicken, orange and lettuce (and several other ingredients I can no longer remember), was called 'click-clock'. Go figure! Both of them went on to do food tech as their chosen design/technology subject for their GCSEs.