If your child is looking to get involved in the kitchen, make the most of it. Kids are often more able than we give them credit for, and teaching them kitchen skills at a young age ensures they not only develop healthy habits, but also a greater appreciation for the meals you put in front of them. Start slow and teach your child to cook safely with these 17 top tips.
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My daughter has been obsessed with the American series Masterchef Junior for the past few years, and has great aspirations of getting on the show in time to come.
When you see these under-14s creating culinary works of art that would baffle adults, it just goes to show that it’s never too early to learn some basic (non-Masterchef) skills.
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Why Should You Teach Your Child to Cook?
Teaching your child to cook alongside you is not only a fun activity to do together, but it fills your child with kitchen confidence and a range of skills that are sure to stand to them in the future.
Even the youngest toddler can take part and have their own ‘jobs’ while you prep – stirring, weighing, sifting, pouring, number recognition on the scales, cracking eggs (with assistance!)…the main thing is to try and make it fun while teaching your child to cook safely under your supervision.
Sometimes for adults it’s hard to find the fun in cooking – particularly at the end of a long day when you just need to get it done and over with – but cooking is a fantastic way to teach new vocabulary, maths and reading skills, as well as developing fine motor skills. It really sets your kids up with a life skill they will thank you for in the future.
Most often, children’s first kitchen experiences will be when doing some easy baking, and of course they are particularly pleased with the tasty results. Developing skills and encouraging new tastes on the savoury side are also important.
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Teach Your Child to Cook Safely
If a course isn’t for you, or you can’t find one in your area, take some simple steps at home to get your little one on a road to culinary independence:
#1. Explain the Rules
Start by explaining the kitchen rules to your child:
- washing hands
- tying hair back
- keeping surfaces clean
- how to handle knives and sharp things safely
- only going near hot surfaces or pots with adult permission,
- cutting/grating/peeling away from you
- turning the handles of saucepans inwards so they don’t get knocked
- using oven mitts for hot dishes
- no running or messing around
- and cleaning up after yourself (my favourite!)
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#2. Getting to Know Equipment
Show the basic kitchen equipment to your child so they know what’s what and when it may be needed – for example, sieve, ladle, measuring cups and spoons, weighing scales, frying pan and saucepans, vegetable peeler, garlic crusher, grater, mixer, whisk, tin opener, etc.
#3. The Language of Cooking
Teach your children the language of the kitchen – bake, grill, roast, melt, beat, simmer, boil, chop, blend, grate, fry, pinch, fl oz, tsp, ml, grams and so on.
#4. The Right Time to Teach Your Child to Cook
Get your child involved when you have the time to do everything at their pace. When you come in from work and have only a matter of minutes to get everyone fed, is probably not the best time to start letting little hands assist.
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#5. Preparation is Key
Get your ingredients ready beforehand – whether you weigh them out or not before your assistant joins you really depends on the age and attention span of your child. I find that having a few things to weigh out is good for teaching numbers on the scales (eg. ‘tell me when we get to 100g/50ml’), but more than that may be asking a lot.
#6. Basic Skills Even Young Children Can Learn
Washing fruit and veggies is a chance to teach your child what each vegetable is and why it keeps us healthy.
Stirring, scooping and tasting all prove to be popular, and you can then move on to peeling vegetables, cracking eggs, chopping, and more.
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#7. Cracking Eggs
When it comes to cracking eggs, use a small bowl or cup and let your child have a go. Do one at a time, retrieving any egg shell as you go, and then pour it into your mixing bowl.
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#8. Chopping Skills
Develop chopping skills with a child-safe knife and start with soft foods that don’t require as much knife-work or pressure. Let’s face it, the results probably won’t be pretty, but wait until you see their excitement at being involved – priceless. Mushrooms, peppers, avocado, courgette and strawberries are ideal for first-timers.
As their skills improve, you could move on to explain the difference between slicing, chopping and dicing.
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#9. Pouring and Mixing
Pouring and mixing ingredients together is not only therapeutic for adults, but it is a physical work out for little arms – and they love it! Have your child help you to combine ingredients, and let them get their hands in to mix things round when possible.
Meatballs, for example, are not only fun to eat, but little hands are the perfect size to make kid-size meatballs. And kneading pastry and bread dough is a fun workout too.
#10. Baking Skills
If you are making cookies, scones, pastry, etc let your kids roll out the dough, do all the cutting out and egg-washing as needed.
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#11. Measuring Cups
Carefully use spoon and/or cup measures to measure out ingredients. You don’t need to be able to read the scales for this one, so it’s suitable for younger children.
#12. Working Alongside You
Even if the dish you are cooking is too advanced for your child to be doing themselves, keep them involved with jobs like sprinkling in seasonings, stirring, and ‘supervising’ your work.
#13. Mess is Good!
The old adage ‘you can’t bake a cake without cracking a few eggs’ goes through my mind for this one. Expect a mess, it’s inevitable. But it is a good mess as they can help you clean up afterwards and the enjoyment they will get from seeing the finished dish will be worth any mess made.
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#14. Timing is Key
Even toddlers can help with turning on the timer (again, number recognition can be taught here) and then listening out for it. And you are teaching them that food is not always instant, that there is a method but it is worth the wait.
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#15. Cleaning Up
Ensure your child helps with the cleaning up too, it’s all part of the process. And lets face it, they all love splashing soapy water around, so hold off on using the dishwasher!
#16. Quicker to Do Yourself
Yes, it would be easier to do it yourself, but remember that you are teaching your child something important and that will take time. Have patience and embrace the chaos! And reap the rewards as they grow!
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I find serving and presentation is something that kids like to be involved in too. If there is time and your child wants to arrange the food on the plate in a particular way, go for it. I don’t classify this as ‘playing with your food’ as I think it’s a good way to demystify fruit and veg with young children. With sweet things, this presentation stage usually results in a sprinkles-covered kitchen!
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Have your say! Do your children enjoy cooking? Do you teach your child to cook alongside you? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!