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Written by Caroline Meyer

Yes, we know cooking with kids can be a messy business. You might end up with partially eaten raw food or an inedible meal, but it is worth it. Cooking teaches many life skills such as hygiene, using sharp implements, problem solving and even science, maths and reading skills. Cooking together is also a great bonding experience as well as allowing for some independence. Here are a few ideas to make cooking with kids fun. 

Choose the right time 

It’s always a good idea to plan your cooking with kids time on a weekend, preferably afternoon or evening. This gives you time to plan, cook and clean up without being rushed or stressing out about feeding the family and getting kids to bed. Let the kids plan the meal with you ahead of time, from looking up the recipe to shopping for the ingredients to actually plating the meal once it is done. 

Teach them hygiene  

As well as washing their hands before and while cooking, kids can also learn to wash fruits and vegetables. A dirty potato is a teaching moment about where the food comes from. Even better would be to grow some of your own produce so they learn the life cycle of the plant and can enjoy food they have grown and picked themselves. If you can’t, maybe take them to a market where they can talk to a farmer or grocer about the produce.  Let them wash the fruit and vegetables until they are clean and then let the food stand on a dish or cloth to try. Let them add the washed foods to the meal to complete the lesson. 

Give them some space 

Keep an eye on them, but let them try things themselves. Let them measure out ingredients for you. Allow them to mix items together, to mash vegetables and even cut with a butter knife if they are a bit older. Don’t take over or clean up around them until afterwards. This instils confidence and a sense of pride in what they are doing. Allow them to make some of the choices such as what to add to stew or pizza or choose the type of pasta for the meal.  

Make it fun 

Allow them to knead the dough and even roll it out. Let them use the cookie cutters and cut out the shapes. Let them stir the pot or toss a salad. Let them add the sauce to the meal. The more involved they are, the more they will enjoy it. Let them taste the food and decide if it needs anything added. Give them fresh herbs and spices to try out to build up knowledge of many flavours and tastes.  

Involve all the senses 

While cooking engages the sense of taste and smell, you can stimulate other senses while cooking as well. Let them choose different colours to go in to a meal and allow them to lay the food out on the table to give a sense of what looks good and what doesn’t appeal. Allow them to listen to the sounds of food frying, the noise of a blender, the grating of a can opener or the popping of a cork. Let them touch the food by playing with dough, stuffing pasta or making pies. 

Keep them engaged 

While they are busy they will be engaged in the process and having fun. Keep them involved every step of the way. Let them unpack, wash, sort and measure ingredients. Let them bash the steak with a mallet. Allow them to roll the chicken in bread crumbs. Let them rip up the lettuce and even crack the eggs. There are so many activities in the kitchen you can involve a child in as long as they are supervised. If they are a little older, let them chop mushrooms with a butter knife to start with. They can learn the basics this way, which will allow more confidence in using sharp implements later on as well as an awareness for safety.  

Be honest about the food  

Unless your whole family is vegetarian, you will at some point have meat in the kitchen when you prepare meals with the kids. Tell them where the vegetables come from, but also where the meat comes from. You can also teach about organic foods as well as free range meat and eggs as opposed to factory raised animals. Answer their questions and listen to their responses. It might also impact on your cooking over the long term. 

Safety first 

Cooking can be lots of fun, but you are working around sharp implements, hot stoves and other items that can be dangerous to little ones. Start off with basic hygiene such as washing their hands before and after meal preparation. Ensure that hot liquids cannot be reached by little ones and always turn pot handles inwards. Put the knife block high or otherwise out of reach of little hands. Always supervise and warn of potential dangers so that they learn to prepare and cook food safely. 

The main thing is to have fun together. Don’t underestimate your kids, they can probably do a lot more than you think.  Allow them to try, don’t get impatient or worry about a little mess. Instil an appreciation in them for the process of meal preparation and help them develop skills that will last a lifetime.

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