Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Autumn Issue 2012 | Tamara Abraham
From budding chefs to the pickiest of eaters, every child has something to gain from getting in the kitchen…
With huge potential for mess, not to mention dangerous accidents, letting kids in the kitchen might sound like a recipe for disaster.
It doesn’t have to be though. Teaching your brood how to navigate their way around a chopping board can be both fun and a chance to hone some valuable life skills.
In fact, it seems there are very few limits when it comes to getting children involved with food. Bestselling cookery writer and child nutrition expert Annabel Karmel reveals her own children were cooking the family meal on Friday nights from the ages of six or seven.
“Most children love to cook and a good way to get them to try new foods is to encourage them to have a hand in preparing it,” she says. “It’s also a great way of bonding with your child and they are learning lots of skills like weighing and measuring and telling the time.”
She believes that children as young as three can start getting their hands dirty, prescribing “messy, mixing things” as the order of the day for littler ones, like scrambled eggs or ginger cookies.
As they build confidence, Annabel suggests cupcakes and milkshakes, which don’t involve lots of sharp knives. Flapjacks and chocolate fridge cake are as fun to make as they are to eat.
The child-friendly cooking repertoire should extend beyond cakes and biscuits though. The ability to prepare a broad and healthy range of dishes will take them through university and beyond.
“Supper could be spaghetti Bolognese, or Spanish omelette,” Annabel suggests. “Cooking can be a global education too.
“Let them look through cookery books. It’s learning time for lots of other things apart from cooking.”
There’s no need to take it all too seriously though. Annabel dresses her baked potatoes as mice with radish slice ears and cherry tomato noses, while her mini chicken pies get personality with carrot hair and petit pois eyes.
Indeed, such culinary creativity can be a great exercise for fussy eaters. If a child is involved in the preparation of a dish - or at the very least, inspired by the presentation - they are far more likely to enjoy eating it.
As for the myriad of risks a kitchen presents, learning to cook is the perfect opportunity for budding chefs to learn about them. The basics should include exercising caution when using a hot hob and washing hands after touching raw meat - as well as how to slice and dice ingredients.
“By the age of seven, they should be able to handle sharp knives,” Annabel adds. “Part of learning to cook is learning to chop.”
Of course, no mum will have much enthusiasm for a shared cooking session if she is faced with an epic mess afterwards, so the habit of cleaning up as one cooks is well worth instilling. Wiping down sticky surfaces and loading the dishwasher takes seconds - and with a small and eager pair of hands to help out, well, it’ll be child’s play.
For more advice from Annabel Karmel, visit www.annabelkarmel.com
Bombay Duck three-tier cake stand, £42, Debenhams, www.debenhams.com
Simplicity scales, £19, www.isme.com
Playnation utensils, £7 each and tongs, £8, all John Lewis, www.johnlewis.com
Joseph Joseph Nest 8, £37, John Lewis, www.johnlewis.com
Baking cutters set, £3.49, www.homesense.com
Cupcakes & Cookie Dough recipe book, £6, Lily & Lime, www.lilyandlime.co.uk