Cooking With Kids
A rewarding experience for everyone
by Amanda Erdogan
I absolutely love getting my kids in the kitchen to cook and bake with me. It really is a rewarding experience for all of us. I get to share my passion with them while they are learning and having fun, and we’re all spending quality time together. A win-win for everyone. And the cherry on top, it keeps them from getting into some of their less charming shenanigans over some toy or another.
During this strange time in our lives, with our kids home all day, everyday, it may feel like we are spending a lot of time together, but are we really bonding? This is why I like the activity of creating something in the kitchen together. It forces us to really be focused on the activity at hand while also having to work successfully together to get the desired end result. But what we create is key. I find it’s helpful if it’s something they are excited to eat. Baked goods like cookies, cupcakes and muffins are always winners. This is when I don’t have to do any luring to get them to help me. They volunteer happily as it means they get a treat when they’re finished.
I use this opportunity to try and include any healthy ingredients I can. Whole wheat flour, honey or bananas instead of sugar, chia or flax seeds and fresh seasonal fruits can all be great additions to your homemade baked goods to help kids understand how something can be quite yummy while still being pretty good for them. A perfect example, zucchini pancakes are my little ones’ favourite pancake and they know exactly what they are made of since they helped me put them together (that doesn’t quite mean, they’re eager to pick up a forkful of roasted zucchini for dinner, but it’s a start).
And speaking of dinner, when it comes to getting them to put their culinary skills to work for a savoury recipe, the same rule pretty much applies—if it’s not something they want to eat, chances are you’ll probably lose their interest. So in an effort to teach them that not everything delicious they make has to be dessert, I definitely try and up the fun factor here. Recipes that really get their hands dirty or require a lot of involvement like rolling, smooshing, or pounding usually engage them the most. And they have a lot of fun and get out some of those wiggly sillies. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of energy they’re not burning these days while at home and any outlet to let them “release steam:,is key to parental survival.
Making things like meatballs, meatloaf, handmade crackers, fresh bread or healthy smoothies are really great for putting those (clean) little fingers to work. They’ll love getting the chance to mix the meat by hand or rolling it into little balls (just make sure to teach them the importance of being mindful when handling raw meat). Kneading dough is one of our favourite kitchen activities and requires a good amount of strength and energy. Rolling it is something they equally enjoy and teaches them the importance of evenness. Pounding chicken or chopping veggies for a soup is something they’ll also be happy to do. My son pounds away at enough of his toys, why not do it while helping with dinner. Cutting fruit and separating spinach leaves for smoothies are also great things to get the kids involved.
Homemade pizza night sound fun? It is. Let your littles help chop the toppings and you might just find them throwing on some colourful vegetables they might not otherwise welcome. Same goes for tacos or one of our go-to’s, taco bowls. A great meal to load up with good for you ingredients that you can all share the effort to make. If you have more than one kid helping, divide the tasks or for something like stirring, give each one 10 turns around the bowl then pass it on. Let the youngest practice the counting.
And when giving the kids a chance to chop, choose things like cucumbers, zucchini, asparagus or broccoli and cauliflower florets that have already been cut from the harder core. These can all be easily cut with a regular butter knife. Bananas and strawberries are great for this too. Something a little more labour and time-intensive that my daughter absolutely loves is shucking peas. We cut off one end so she can easily open them up and take out those little green spring jewels.
Produce like this provides a great opportunity to teach about seasonal foods to be appreciated during their short window of peak availability and best flavour. One of our favourite weekend activities used to be going to the local farmers market or bazaar and seeing and tasting what delicious things were available. Something I hope we can still do one day when this pandemic is far behind us. In the meantime, you can try growing something edible at home in any sunny little spot you have and using that as an opportunity to pass on the farm-to-table idea.
Two key factors I like to teach my kids about working in the kitchen, besides safety with hot and sharp items, is the importance of 'mise en place’ and cleaning up as you go. The latter is the first thing I learned in culinary school. It means everything in it’s place. Which basically translates to having all the tools and ingredients necessary for a particular recipe, organised right in front of you to ensure optimum success. Starting the process of making spaghetti and meatballs might not go so well if halfway through you realise you don’t have tomatoes or sauce. And cleaning up as you go is probably one of the most valuable practices I gained as a chef and try and emphasise to anyone I cook with, not just my kids. It ensures organisation, a smoother cooking or baking experience, less opportunities for possible injury and less time in the kitchen in the end. Which let’s face it, things can get a tad bit messier when the children are doing the cooking.
Bottom line, getting the whole family in the kitchen together is a good idea. As a parent or caregiver you’re rewarded with priceless time together and a great opportunity to see how smart, helpful and even funny your growing little humans can be, all while making a potential masterpiece. If it doesn’t turn out as planned, that’s okay too. Now you have the perfect chance to teach them some resilience and that something beautiful (and also delicious) can still come from what seemed like a failure. And when that isn’t the case, you can laugh about it and troubleshoot together what went wrong.
Your kids will not only love the time with you but will also gain a sense of independence and confidence. To create something with their hands that they’re proud of, can eat and share is gold. The more you get them involved, the more likely they are to keep an open mind about what they eat, and hopefully widen their palate in the process.