Having taught many kids to cook at schools and also from experience with my own children – I have learned a few tips and tricks you’ll want to know about!
To avoid stress and to make the experience of preparing food together a positive memorable experience, you need to have a plan. The worst thing you could possibly do is to make their introduction to eating healthy food an unpleasant or stressful experience. Whilst it may seem simple to just jump into the kitchen and have a go with the kids – they’re not used to being in the kitchen with you, and you’re not used to being in the kitchen with them – things will go wrong.
So you must have a simple but effective plan with the goal of producing a great experience (not just great food). A Plan is just like a recipe, it tells you what you need, what to prepare, what steps to take and what to avoid. So here is my plan to have a great experience that connects you with your kids around Real Food.
1. Tell your children what you’ll be doing.
Let them know you have an exciting project planned – that they are going to help make a family meal. Ask them to have a look through some recipe books (or recipes online) and choose out some recipes for you to discuss together. This gives them a sense of control over what they will be eating and also allows for everyone to have some input to choosing a meal.
2. Pick a simple meal.
Keep the meals simple, not too many ingredients, nothing that relies on perfect timing to get a good result, nothing that involves techniques that has you doing all the work while the children get bored watching you, and nothing that takes too long. When you are getting started and for younger children, you may want to pick a meal;
- That does not need to be cooked
- Has ingredients that can be chopped with a child-safe knife
- Involves simple mixing / combining of ingredients in a bowl using a wooden spoon or similar (not a food processor)
3. Do your shopping (with your children if possible).
You can’t make a meal without having the ingredients. So make a list and go buy your ingredients together with your children if possible. Get them to help you select the best ingredients. If you have the knowledge, talk about the different options and discuss which may be healthier. You don’t need to know which are healthy – the most important thing is to introduce the idea that some ingredients might look the same or similar, but are healthier than others. While you are out shopping, and if your budget allows – look for aprons and kitchen utensils for the kids. You can get these quite inexpensively at places like Spotlight and Big W. This adds to the fun and helps to create special memories. Depending on the height of your children you may also need to consider getting a little step or stool so they can be at the right height when working at the kitchen bench.
4. Pick a time.
This should be a relaxed and rewarding experience for you and your children, so you need to pick a day and time of the week where you can take the time to be focused and not be worried about rushing so that you can get on to your next job. Ideally, pick a time that your children would otherwise be nagging you to do something with them! Weekends are usually a great time for this.
5. Prepare your workspace.
You want your kids to be involved in preparing the meal – but you don’t want them to be working in a cluttered messy kitchen. Before you start, make sure there is nothing to knock-over, break or contaminate with “flying” ingredients. Ideally have your children get the ingredients from the fridge and pantry and the utensils and bowls you will need. But if that is going to cause stress or be difficult – then get those items out before you ask them to join you in the kitchen.
6. Prepare your children.
Kids can measure, peel, chop, grate and mix ingredients, roll meatballs, open tins, crack eggs and taste test! Decide which tasks you want the kids to do and which tasks you will be doing. This helps to avoid arguments if you are cooking with more than one child as it sets the rules up before you start. Kids are used to this – most of them do it every day at kindy or school. Before you start, have a quick chat with the kids about how it is going to work. Set their expectations in language they can understand – “We’re going to be making smoothies so there is going to be some chopping and mixing involved.” If you have more than one child helping, it’s a good idea to let them know that they will each get a turn of doing something and won’t miss out. Also let them know that they will be helping with the cleaning up, so they know what to expect at the end.
Make sure you all wash your hands before starting to handle the food. Talk to them about why this is important – how spreading germs onto the food can make us sick.
7. Taste test.
Kids learn with all their senses, so before you start cooking, get them to taste and smell the different ingredients. Talk about different tastes and textures and what they smell like. Don’t force your child to eat something they don’t want to. Children’s likes and dislikes change, and it can take time and perseverance before children will accept foods they don’t like the first time. Keep the experience positive.
8. Follow a step-by-step recipe.
Have your recipe book out or print the recipe from the computer and have it close to hand while you’re cooking. Even if it’s a recipe you are familiar with, it is easy to forget a step or an ingredient when you have a bunch of little helpers in there with you. You don’t want their first cooking experience to be a disaster because you forgot to add the eggs! If you have kids old enough to read, ask them to read out the steps for you.
9. Cleaning up.
Cleaning up after themselves is as important as the cooking itself. It demonstrates responsibility and teaches them important life skills. Have a cloth on hand while cooking to wipe up any spills or messy hands. After cooking, little ones can wipe down benches and help put ingredients away while the bigger ones can wash the dishes. Don’t get hung up on it being perfect, your job is to teach them. Keep the experience positive!
10. Share the food.
This is almost as fun as the cooking itself – sharing their creations with the people they love. Imagine the look of pride on their faces when Dad tries their meal and loves it! It’s a fantastic boost to their confidence and reinforces the message that Real Food can be yummy and fun and will encourage them to want to do it again.