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How to encourage your children to cook!

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Check out this fantastic article from The Telegraph on how to encourage your little ones to cook.

We all know the story. Cooking with children is good news. If you can teach them to grill a chop, make a tomato sauce and knock up a simple soup from a few oddments of veg, you are setting them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. And with half term on the horizon, what better time to head for the kitchen? So far, so good.

But the reality of getting children  involved in meal preparation is rather more fraught than you might suppose. You can spend many hours trying to emulate the glossy magazine photographs of immaculate children rolling dough with their smiling mother – only to end up foul-tempered and encrusted with gunk.

Never mind the safety anxieties, tinies have scant regard for kitchen hygiene, with fingers darting from nose to mixing bowl faster than you can say, “Snot there!” And by the time they are teenagers, the burden of homework and hormones means persuading them to spend time learning how to roast a chicken – well, it’s enough to make even parents roll their eyes and mutter “whatever”.

The sweet spot, according to Jenny Chandler, whose new book Cool Kids Cook has just been published, is in between – from seven to 12, to be precise. “At this age they can really achieve something,” she says.

Chandler’s book is packed with recipes for real food – there are no cupcakes or smiley-faced pizzas. “I wanted to write about real food that families would want to share – not gimmicks or cupcakes.”

Child making soda bread
  1. Get children involved at the planning and shopping stage and allow them to make some choices.
  2. Choose moments when there is plenty of time to cook, rather than when everyone is stressed and desperate to be fed.
  3. Encourage kids to hang out in the kitchen as you cook and hand them jobs like shaping falafel, mashing avocados or podding peas.
  4. Get them to develop one signature dish and practise it until they can cook really confidently.
  5. Once a child understands how a recipe works, encourage him or her to experiment with new flavours.
  6. Let kids use proper kitchen tools as soon as they are able, so cooking feels grown-up and cool. By seven, children can use sharp knives safely and efficiently if shown how.
  7. Set them a challenge of cooking an entire meal and invite friends or family around to enjoy the results. They’ll have a huge sense of achievement.
  8. Be on hand to keep an eye on tricky tasks like grilling, but try not to interfere too much.
  9. Try not to stress about the mess: it’s inevitable. Being too military about the entire operation just saps the fun and creativity
  10. Make holidays and outings a culinary adventure, gathering wild garlic or buying mussels in a local market. They’ll be more engaged and excited by the food.

Chef Claire Thomson, another champion of real food for kids, agrees. “Children are much more comfortable if they feel in control of their food.”

 

kids cook

Like Chandler, she says six or seven is the age when children can really start learning to cook. “They can use a wooden spoon and stir a pan, and, crucially, they are tall enough. You don’t want them standing on a rickety wooden chair.”

Start with simple, tactile stuff, such as guacamole, says Thomson. “Little kids love the gross stuff. Ivy likes to squidge the marinade into a chicken.” They’ll progress quickly. “Grace has her own knife, a children’s one, and I’m happy about her chopping with that.” (Try Opinel Le Petit Chef, £27.95, or – even safer, though less useful – theKiddi Kutter, £9.99). As for Dot, “she’s good at licking the spoon,” says Thomson, laughing.

Chandler, an experienced teacher, with regular classes at Bertinet Kitchen in Bath, as well as London’s Borough Market and her alma mater Leith’s School of Food and Wine, believes it’s all about confidence. With children even more than adults, she says, the key is to teach useful techniques.

With this in mind, her book focuses on master recipes such as pancakes or fish parcels, then incorporates twists so that kids can make many other dishes. So a simple meatball can be adapted to make Vietnamese lettuce wraps with lemongrass-scented meatballs, or a Moroccan lamb version with couscous and tomato sauce – skills most adults would be delighted to master, too.

Practice is important, says Chandler. “Let them cook the same dish several times and serve it to family and friends. They will have real pride in their achievement and feel they had done something meaningful.”

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