Ten tips for cooking with kids
Most children love to cook; it’s hands on, it’s fun, not to mention getting a sense of achievement at the end. Cooking with children can be daunting but it is worth the mess and time. There are many ways kitchen activities can benefit your child (Read them here) and the safest way to let them help is using a learning tower. Learning tower is essentially a stepping stool with a safe zone on top to keep young children safe while helping you out on the kitchen tabletop. You can create precious moments of bonding and learning by engaging your kids in the kitchen. Here are ten tips that’ll help you and your child enjoy cooking together.
1. Set aside time
Cooking with your kids takes up more time than you’d imagine. A simple meal which would normally take you 30min to prepare will now take double the time to prepare with the kids around. Plan your schedule and ensure you have enough time to let them explore and for you to clean up. Remember, the journey is much more fun than the destination.
2. Pick the right time for the child and for yourself
Do not involve a child who is tired or cranky. Choose a time of the day when your child can focus and is in the mood to play. This means that morning breakfast prep may not be the best time for preschoolers as you will likely be rushing to prepare them for daycare. When you cook with your children, it needs to be at a time when you feel calm. If you are exhausted, stressed and running on empty, perhaps you are better off leaving the children out of the picture.
3. Prepare in advance
When possible, do some preparation before you invite them to join you. Plan and choose an appropriate recipe, one that involves activities that are suitable for their age. For young children, think about how they might help you and what are the steps you can involve them. If you are preparing a smoothie with them, it may be a good idea to cut the more challenging fruits yourself and leave the easier ones for them to try.
4. Clear the table, make it empty, make it safe
Before inviting your child to climb up the learning tower, it is always a good idea to clear the table, including keep the knife out of reach. Kids are curious by nature and you can't keep their busy hands from exploring the moment they are up on the countertop. When you clear the table, you also remove any distraction and allow your child to focus on the task in front of them. More importantly, with lesser things on the table, any spills can be easily contained.
5. Set basic rules
Think safety first. Before allowing them up the learning tower, you should talk to them about some of the basic safety rules in the kitchen. Some basic rules like: Watch out for sharp knives. When someone is chopping, their hands should not come into the chopping board. Keep flammable objects like paper towels away from stove.
6. Lower your expectation
Approach it like you would for a kids’ craft activity rather than preparing a meal. You would expect your child to accidentally spill the paint, or paint on the table or maybe even dip his finger into the paint, wouldn’t you? It doesn’t matter if the mushroom turned out to be irregular shapes or if half the banana ends up being eaten. After all, it’s the process, not about how perfect the food turns out to be.
7. Be forgiving with unintended mess
It is highly likely your cooking session is going to end up with bit of mess. It is always good to start with two designated work zones. One is the actual preparation area where the main action is taking place. Second area is a temporary spot to put things that you do not want your child to touch for that moment. For example, after your child crack and beat the egg, you may want him to move on to the next task. To help him focus on the next task, you should move the beaten egg in the second area.
8. Tasting on the go
Not only is licking your fingers fun, it helps children experience food through all their senses. Lick the spoon after whipping up cream, taste a spoonful of the soup when it is ready. To make sure they don’t end up eating raw ingredients, let your children know that they must ask before they can lick.
9. Make it fun
Wear aprons. Make a task into a silly game. Encourage your child to sniff the spices or combine the ingredients with their hands. Tickle their cheek with fresh parsley. Bring their attention to the smallest details of the food. Let them check out the fish gills or touch the papaya seed. Point out to them where the rostrum in a prawn is; encourage them to touch it, tell them the purpose of it and how we need to be careful when peeling the prawn. You could even use a soft vegetable to tell a story and illustrate how a prawn uses its rostrum for self-defense against the attacker (soft vegetables). Get creative and think of other ways to bring in things your kids enjoy.
10. Assign age appropriate task
There are always jobs in kitchen that are suited for certain age groups. From 18 months, they can add ingredients to a bowl, tear the greens and wash the mushrooms using a small bowl of water. At 2-3 years old can wash, count, measure and hand-mix. They could also crack eggs or be introduced to a kid’s knife. Older children can help to make dumpling or roll sushi and use a real knife.