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Cooking with Kids

No, not 101 tasty recipes for eating children, but rather having kids learn to cook

children cooking

Either part way through or by the end of cooking with kids, I wonder what I was actually thinking. The mess, the sheer volume of mess, but that’s my fault I guess for not organising and cleaning as I go. That said, never, ever pass up an opportunity to have your kids help out with cooking. The quality bonding time, the life skills they get, and the pleasure they receive from having others eat what they’ve made makes up for any mess they make I assure you.

Just like with chores and other tasks your kids do, you have to be mindful of safety when cooking, for obvious reasons like knives, heat and other such hazards. The age, experience and maturity level of your kids will greatly affect this. So just like any other chore it’s best to start teaching them young and working up to the goal of having kids cook dinner whilst you put your feet up. Have you seen some of the incredible gastric feasts those kids on 'Masterchef for Kids' bang out?

father and son baking in the kitchen

Cooking Vs Grabbing a Bite

If you don’t have any cooking skills yourself, then it’s way past time to sort that shit out. Check out the What’s for dinner dad? article for how to get started with this.

I think there’s a bit of a distinction to be made between making something to eat and cooking. What I mean by this is that even making toast, spreading butter and jam or making sandwiches is a skill that needs to be taught initially.

Simple meals like beans on toast, toasted sandwiches, heating up soup, 2 minute noodles are a great introduction, but these are just basic ‘get yourself something to eat’, not really cooking.

young girl staring at cookies baking in oven

Soufflé and Teppanyaki, Not Yet

But you have to start somewhere. Even with toddlers you should start with getting them to be a little independent at things like pouring cereal, adding milk and fruit. Identifying a suitable quantity to eat, getting a drink, grabbing their own cutlery, and what to do with their empty bowls when finished.

Seems simple right?

And it might go against your need to want to take care of and show that you love them, but if you do every little thing for them it’ll lead to ‘learnt helplessness’. Remember, it’s about starting that journey of life skills.

Start Baking

So what about cooking? Biscuits and cookies, simple cakes are probably a good introduction to cooking. I’d say it’s probably preferable to use ingredients from scratch rather than packet mixes. Purely from a point of view that they to get an understanding of what is actually in food. A packet mix, or 'shake and make pancakes' really don’t help them with this. Besides, it’s hardly rocket science to mix flour, milk and eggs in a bowl is it?

So grab a foot stool, grab some baking stuff and get cracking. Start with foods that they can get excited about and enjoy eating. Starting them out on their cooking journey with brussels sprouts and rhubarb soup ain’t gonna make them want to go near the kitchen again.

dad and daughter cooking

Dinner Time

Aside from cakes and treats, how about lunch and dinners? Well, keep on with the simple stuff. Beans on toast, scrambled eggs, toasted sandwiches, topping their own pizzas etc. All these small meals help that independence whilst fostering a love of cooking food they like and feeling a sense of achievement.

They’ll enjoy it, not just for that, but because it’s quality time with you as well. You probably won’t do this all the time, because most of the time, you just want it done without the extra time it takes, the associated mess and the fact you want to provide for them yourselves, but giving opportunities is very important.

young children baking

Bring on the Chefs

As they grow and become more responsible and competent, begin with dinners that feed more than just themselves. Actual cooked meals. A child cooking a Spag Bol from scratch and serving it up and looking at everyone with a sense of pride and a ‘I made that!’ feeling will be so rewarding for them.

Just make sure that the washing up isn’t just all dumped for you to take care of. Although, if you’ve got guests over you wouldn’t expect them to clean up, but family members should certainly pitch in as a thank you for being cooked for.

Each week I try to have a 'kids cook night'. I try to plan this earlier in the week so we can get the ingredients needed. My daughter especially loves cooking asian food and will regularly knock up something from a cookbook I wouldn't have dreamed about making myself. Occasionally there's a 'dud' one we have to choke down but then I've done the same to them plenty of times. It's all experience and often we learn best from our mistakes.

After that, well onwards and upwards. Grab some cookbooks for them to browse through and help choose some meals they’d like to have a crack at, make a shopping list, go to the supermarket and get the ingredients together. Foster a love of cooking. It’s nice to have a kid’s cook night at least once a week, maybe each child in your house can take turns.

Won’t be long, you can put your feet up and have restaurant quality food served to you in your own home!

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