There has rarely been a time when I’ve cooked, that my daughter Pearl (age 5) hasn’t wanted to get involved. Even my just turned 1 year old, Poppy, has begun popping her head up at my island unit, having figured out how to climb onto the old school chairs I keep alongside for little helpers.
Kids are naturally curious and drawn to cooking, so while I know it can sometimes slow things down (and often make for a far messier situation!), it provides a fantastic learning opportunity for them. Tempting as it would be to occupy the kids with the TV, particularly nearing the end of a tiring day, I prefer to work it to my advantage also by making the most of the extra pairs of hands. You won’t get keener helpers!
From stirring, sprinkling, and spreading to washing, whisking and weighing, cooking provides kids with endless opportunities for learning. Some of the benefits include…
- Developing fine motor skills and co-ordination
- Mastering techniques
- Making connections and learning about sequences
- Time keeping is practiced
- Learning words and developing reading
- Problem solving skills are developed
- Increasing maths skills
- Science comes to life
- Kids get to be creative, experiment and use their imagination
- Sensory experiences of different textures, smells and tastes are explored
- Kids learn where different foods come from
- Confidence is developed along with a feeling of accomplishment
- Social skills from chatting while cooking to the idea of cooking for a gathering
All that and then they get to lick the bowl. No wonder kids love cooking!
Now down to a plan of action to get cooking with the kids. To help things run as smoothly as possible, I think it’s important to take into account the kids’ point of view first. Here’s what my Pearl has to say…
- Don’t nag me to hurry up or stop me from doing parts I really want to.
- Stop trying to take tasks from me once I’ve started.
- Please just let me taste as much as I like as we go.
- Don’t keep going on about the mess I make.
- I’m going to make mistakes, I'm just learning!
That’s me told! With all that in mind, I would say choose quick and simple meals to begin with. There are plenty to choose from in the brand new selection of recipes for the ‘Get Ireland Cooking Campaign’.
While baking is always welcome in kids’ eyes, it is often done when things are relaxed and there’s a bit of time to play with. Mid week meals often have time constraints, so to begin with, perhaps choose one day per week to get your kitchen helper(s) involved until you get the hang of it.
Choose a recipe you are confident with cooking yourself or have done before. Plan it out well, breaking the recipe down into age appropriate tasks. I sometimes do some sneaky food prep before getting the kids involved, depending on level of skill required or the time (& patience!) I have.
Start as you mean to go on and insist on hair being tied back, hands washed and aprons on right from the start. Lay down ground rules about when it comes to cooking at the hob. You might also need to have some small steps or stools organised for smaller kids.
As you are cooking together, talk about the recipe, ingredients and process involved. Chatting about the day is welcome too. Remember to keep it light hearted and have lots of fun!
The whole family will benefit from cooking and chatting together. It is quality family time. The kids will undoubtedly develop an appreciation for what’s involved in producing a healthy home cooked meal. Not forgetting the memories it creates and the passing on of family recipes and traditions.
To top it all off, children are more likely to sit down and enjoy their meal when they’ve helped prepare it. It is heart warming to hear how proud they are of their creation and the enjoyment they get from everyone else tucking into it too. Sudden role revearsal going on there, but I think that alone should have you convinced to get cooking with the kids!