8 November 2021
Here are some tips to keep in mind when cooking with young children. These may help keep stress levels down and help you see the benefits of providing these experiences.
Start with easy recipes that have only a few ingredients, such as smoothies, dips, and scones.
Think about cooking food that is nutritious for the children as well as making the occasional treat.
Read the recipe first so that you have an idea of the process and what ingredients you need.
Have the recipe, ingredients, and utensils nearby for easy access. Depending on the age of the child and the number of children involved, you may want to have them on a nearby bench out of the children's reach. Then you can bring the ingredients down when they are needed.
Choose an area suitable for the child or children to cook in. Ideas include:
Having a small table in the kitchen so that it is at the child's height and on a suitable floor that's easy to clean.
Bring a stool up to the kitchen bench so that the child can reach the bench. This works best for one or possibly two children.
The dining room table is a good option for larger groups. Also, think about whether the surface underneath the table is suitable for easy cleaning up, such as lino, wood, or a large waterproof mat. This is especially the case if the cooking includes ingredients that could get messy.
If cooking with a larger group, think about whether there is another adult or older child who can help. This also is helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of providing this experience.
Another tip for a group is to have multiple bowls. Use either two (or more) large bowls or a bowl each. Making scones works well with having a bowl each, as each child can make their own scone (see below recipe). This can give the child ownership of their own decisions, for example, adding extra ingredients or changing the shape.
Cooking together works best when children have specific jobs to do, such as pulling herbs off stalks.
Think about what the child wants to do. For example, if they want to taste the dough and you feel it is safe to do so, let them try some as long as they wash their hands afterwards. After trying it, they can then focus on making the product with the reminder that they can taste what is on the spoon or bowl when it is finished. As children get older, perhaps they can wait until the end to try the dough.
Include the children in the clean up as this is part of the whole process.
Through cooking experiences, children develop skills in:
Literacy: reading recipes together and learning cooking vocabulary. Having a recipe with pictures of the steps is helpful when cooking with young children.
Maths: measuring, counting, recognition of numbers, comparison (less/more), fractions, shapes, and colours.
Science: the combining of different ingredients and temperatures to create reactions.
Sensory: mixing, rubbing, kneading, and touching the food.
Creativity: making shapes and perhaps the addition of a different ingredient.
Curiosity: asking questions and experiencing transformations of food.
Teamwork: working together to create food.
Patience: following the recipe and turn-taking.
Life skills: an understanding of food safety, where food comes from, nutrition, and how to create food. Cleaning up also is an important life skill.
Self-help: food preparation in order to develop skills to cook a meal for themselves.
Relationships: this is a time where you can spend time together as you cook.
Urges that are acknowledged and extended upon include:
Transforming: changing ingredients through processes such as mixing, rubbing, cooking with heat.
Trajectory: pouring ingredients into measuring cups and into bowls.
Rotation: mixers, blenders, eggbeaters and stirring.
Cooking can be a fun experience for children as well as adults. There are so many practical learning opportunities in the process of cooking, and there is the added benefit of eating the finished product. Think of including your child in the preparation of your meals and as they get older; they can take more responsibility for the meal and eventually cook a whole meal for you!