7 tips for cooking with kids in the kitchen this school holidays

This post kicks of a series of posts on getting kids in the kitchen to cook these school holidays sponsored by Western Star.

As you can tell from the blog, I spend a fair bit of time in the kitchen. It is very much the main activity hub of our home. From a very young age I have spent time cooking with the kids and they have spent a lot of time hanging in the kitchen with me. It is an activity that I can adapt easily for their age, it creates great learning opportunities, it allows me to spend time with them while still producing something the family needs, but most importantly we have a lot of fun. Isn’t it just the highlight of a little one’s day when they get to lick the spoon or clean up the mixing bowl?

School holidays are a great time to cook with kids as it not only keeps them entertained, but it feeds them as well! Being in the kitchen with kids can be a challenge though depending on the age and over the years I have worked out some strategies to make sure we all have fun and have something tasty to eat at the end of our time.

1. Let go of perfection

If you are wanting to make a fancy dessert to take to a gathering then this is not the recipe to have the kids in the kitchen with you. To allow kids to feel comfortable in the kitchen and to grow their confidence you want to focus on the process not the end result. Yes you want it to be edible, but if the balls the kids are making are not the perfect shape, it doesn’t matter. Kids see things differently to us and they will be very happy with their completed item. Pointing out the lack of perfection takes away the joy.

2. Be prepared for mess

Kids will spill, knock things over, drop stuff on the floor and do other things that will mess up the kitchen. Choosing to get the kids in the kitchen with you the day after you have just cleaned the kitchen until it is shining, will cause you a lot of angst. Teach kids to be careful when pouring etc, but let them know that it is okay if they make a mess. If they are worried you will get annoyed by the mess, they will be less likely to try new activities in the kitchen. Teach them how to clean up their messes too. Have cloths and a dust pan and brush on hand and teach them to clean up as they go along. With kids, the more mess there is, the more chance they will make more mess. Getting them to clean up as they go, teaches them organisation habits for the kitchen that they will need as they begin to make more complex recipes.

3. Make it age appropriate

Cooking is not a great deal of fun for a five year old if mum has to do most of the steps as the recipe is quite complicated. Choose a recipe that is simple and the method contains steps they will be able to do on their own or with minimal assistance. Similarly if you are having a toddler in the kitchen with you to help cook, you want a recipe that you can pull together in 10-15 minutes. You need to understand their attention span and make sure the recipe will not take all day to make.

4. Make sure you have time

Cooking with kids in the kitchen takes much longer than you think. If a recipe usually takes you 10 minutes to prepare, allow 20 minutes. Nothing dampens kids enthusiasm in the kitchen than being rushed. Making sure you have plenty of time to cook means everyone will be happier. School holidays is a great time for me to get the kids in the kitchen as we have much less running around to do and time commitments to meet.

5. Teach them about food hygiene and safety

Teaching them the basics about food hygiene at the outset can save lots of tears later on. Talk about why they need to wash their hands first, discuss why you can eat certain foods raw and what they need to do if the cough/sneeze etc. Discuss safety aspects of heat, blades, machinery and the like so they are aware that if you are not sensible or concentrating in the kitchen you can get hurt.

6. Let them smell, touch and taste

Part of the fun of cooking is the ability to explore food through different senses. If using fresh herbs for example, get them to smell the plant before and after they cut it up. Let them use their hands to mix things or shape dough etc where possible rather than using utensils or appliances. Kids love to get hands on and they will stay more engaged the more they can get their hands involved. Let them have taste tests along the way too, not just at the end of the session. Teach them to do this safely though, not while the mixer is going or directly from a hot pot and hygienically using clean utensils, not fingers. Tasting along they way allows them to start developing a sense of the role of different ingredients play in creating flavours.

7. Use smaller utensils

If you can, have a selection of the key utensils in smaller sizes so it is easier for small hands to use them. It is helpful to have utensils like whisks, knives, spatulas, wooden spoons, graters so younger children can undertake these tasks independently.

Cook with the kids for a chance to win

Thanks to Western Star you can go into the draw to win family trip to New York with the money can’t buy prize of hearing your voice in a scene from Rio 2. There are thousands of secondary prizes to be won as well. Simply purchase any two Western Star products and then head to WesternStarKITK.com.au to enter. Competition opens 15th September 2014 and runs until 9th November 2014. See full terms and conditions here.

What would you add to this list? What do you do to make sure having kids in the kitchen is a fun time?