When you are a busy parent with mouths to feed, it’s incredibly easy to prefer your children well out of the way when it comes to preparing meals. At dinner time, many frazzled moms and dads end up plonking their little ones in front of the TV, just so they can get some peace and time to cook up and dish up.
However, there are lots of reasons why we should be encouraging kids in the kitchen - not banning them! Kids that cook tend to taste more food, are more open to discussions about health, and also have more of a ‘can do’ attitude that impacts their lives way beyond the kitchen.
Sure, it’s difficult - and we’re not suggesting you allow your 2-3-year-olds access to the sharpest knives in the house, of course, but there are a few things you can do to encourage your children to help out a little more, and start seeing the kitchen as a place they can create. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Integrate play with real life
You can get some remarkably realistic toys that replicate the kitchen experience for kids, these days. Units such as the Kidkraft Kitchen are highly popular, and an excellent way to introduce your little ones to pots, pans, stoves and all the other gadgets every kitchen has. You can pass them food to rinse and wash in their little containers, measure liquids and weigh solids, and even help you do the basics like mashing potatoes and tearing lettuce leaves.
Scooping, pouring and cutting
Scooping powders or pouring liquids are fantastic ways to help your children develop their motor skills - and they’ll have a lot of fun, too. After some practice, they will soon be able to do tasks like this alone. Cutting is another story, of course. It’s a good idea to avoid using sharp knives for the moment, but things like cutting pastry with plastic alternatives is more than achievable.
One of the most important things you can do is to encourage your children to learn all the different foodstuffs used while cooking the dish. As we mentioned in the intro, it’s a fantastic opportunity to start talking about healthy - and unhealthy - food. If you discuss the dangers of overeating sugar, butter, and other similar ‘naughty but nice’ products, they will think twice about eating quite so much chocolate brownie when they see how much goes in there! Also, when kids discuss with you about the food and help create it, they are more likely to give it a try when it comes to dinner time.
Starting to cook
Once your child reaches school age - or perhaps a little later - they are usually OK to start cooking under supervision. You can get them to help preheat the oven, stir sauces on the stove, and if you have a safe fruit peeler, they can even have a go at peeling spuds and apples. Older still, and you might feel comfortable with them handling a knife - under supervision, of course. They will love the creative side of cutting and dicing veggies, as long as they are soft products - avoid hard vegetables which could cause slipping and a variety of nasty accidents.
Encourage your children to help in the kitchen. Feel free to share some of your experiences.