Cooking with kids – and yes it can be fun and just a little messy!
The kitchen is my castle, and I am not easily prepared to give it up! So handing it over to kids requires certain preparation and basic rules for all; and you may have to remind the young cooks frequently of them!
As the guardian of your kitchen you must also remember, particularly with younger kids, not to leave them alone in the kitchen, making sure that all potentially harmful items are removed (be it sharp utensils, just recently boiled water kettles, etc.) and that you give clear instructions regarding ovens, hot water taps and the list goes on. Now let’s start the fun!
Less is more – you might think that is a given but in the process of discussing the cooking adventure with kids, their imagination somehow will get the better of them and you will end up with some sort of crazy dish and possibly a mess. So let’s stick to the basics. The number three comes to mind: three toppings for pizza, three toppings for cakes or muffins and so on.
Choose an easy recipe – working with pastry is one of the most rewarding cooking experiences and almost always delivers a successful dish! We are looking at pizza, cookies (adjustable to the seasons), muffins and so on. The actual activities for the kids could range between making the dough, or only kneading the dough, decorating and putting on toppings.
If you do not like to prepare the dough yourself, don’t feel guilty, buy it (fresh or frozen), and form it back into a lump so the kids can apply their rolling pin skills or indeed their hands. If you prepare your own dough, I leave it up to your judgment whether you want the kids to participate in the actual dough making – depends on their age and how protective you are of your kitchen. Remember cracking eggs and working with flour makes a mess. And some kids may not even like the feeling of touching the unfinished dough but rather work with the finished one. Of course, the older our cooks are the more ‘educational’ cooking becomes, particularly with baking as one deals with conversions, weighing and chemical reactions.
Allow the kids their working space – this is particularly important if you are cooking in parallel. Make sure you have sufficient space for your own cooking and that the space for the kids is free of all non-essential ingredients as well as eggs and liquids. Re-arranging may take some time but it is worth it, as it reduces anxiety if the mess becomes more than anticipated, or in most cases if the preparation of our young cooks takes far longer than anticipated. Or the opposite, if they decide they had enough and wonder off. Don’t be shy and do ask them to clean their working space and themselves (of course the extend of cleaning up depends very much on their age).
Focus on the sensory experience – kneading dough allows kids to discover and develop heir motor skills. So give them enough time. It is not so much about the outcome as the actual experience. If, after all, you do want to eat something, set aside the portion you need and prepare independently. Cutting fruit and vegetables are also great motor skill activities for kids and on top of it healthy! Also here it is your decision whether your kids are ready for cutting and which knives can be used.
Actual recipes – the range is vast, hence why not approach the selection process in the following way:
what do we have at home, what is easy to make (depending on the kids’ age and ambition), what do we all like, what have we never had but our friends keep saying it is yummy! From The Rabbit’s experience the following dishes are rather suitable:
Savory: fried eggs (and yes it will take years for your kid to break the egg like you do but they still manage), veggie sticks with dips, cheese wafers, baked veggie crisps, sandwiches of all kind (the actual spreading of toppings onto the bread is a rather satisfactory task for our cooks starting from an early age), sausages in a blanket (rolling the cooked sausage in the dough is just as good as eating it), savory and sweet pizza rolls, …
Fruit and veg: water ice with fruits, apple purée, fruit and milk shakes, fruit platters, …
Sweets: cookies, muffins with or without decoration, sponge cakes with fresh fruit toppings, …
The Rabbit does not list any internet pages here as most of the parents will have their favorite ones and surely adapt them according to their wishes and experience.
Kids taking on responsibilities – for those who actively want to teach kids how to cook, there are several down-to-earth kids cooking books. Why not ask your kid to choose a recipe once a week and use Sunday mornings to prepare it together? That goes hand in hand with laying and cleaning the table, food shopping, understanding the value of money, and ultimately results in a very proud young person, actively contributing to family life.
And if you still have just a couple of minutes more to spare – and you have the ingredients at home, why not grow some vegetables, like the obvious cress? Ideal as a sandwich or salad topping and it supports kids’ understanding of how vegetables grow! And even if your kid does not eat greens, most of them will be intrigued to watch it grow.
The Rabbit wishes a delicious time in the kitchen and says Bon Appétit!