Explainer: How to Cook with Children
Cooking with children requires a different approach than when cooking by yourself or with another adult. It is a great skill to teach young children, however you will need to be mindful of the suitability of each cooking activity.
The main areas to consider are:
· Age appropriate recipes
· Age appropriate tools
· Appliances to hand
· Links to healthy eating
· Good hygiene
Age appropriate recipes
Many recipes suited for young children do not normally require them to do much actual ‘cooking’. For example, they would not be expected to stand over a hot stove stirring food, but rather enjoying the process of identifying ingredients, putting them together and creating something new.
Showing children how simple ingredients can be transformed into something else entirely, deepens their understanding of the world, just as practising chopping and mixing helps to develop their motor skills. Children enjoying preparing and combining ingredients and adults can carry out the part that involves cooking-such as putting items in and out of the oven.
Some appropriate recipes to make with children can also consist of creating cold dishes. Here are a few suggestions of simple recipes children can get involved with: fruit salad, biscuits, pizzas, scones, cheese twists, cakes, fruit/vegetable skewers, wraps, sandwiches, salads, smoothies.
Age appropriate tools
Depending on the children’s age, some tools are more difficult to use than others. Most children between the ages of 1 and 2 will be able to stir a spoon (maybe with some assistance), whereas it won’t be until they are about 3 or 4 that they can safely use a knife.
Specific plastic cutting knifes are available and safe for children to use as they do not cut skin. Using blunt knifes can create more hazards than they avoid, so sharper knives can actually often be safer. Assessing risks, common sense, considering the child’s age and abilities all play a part too. If cooking one to one with a child 4 or 5 years and over, sharp knives may be suitably introduced, but with militant supervision.
Children should not be allowed near hot appliances such as kettles or ovens. However, this does not mean that they cannot learn how to use them safely. If the kitchen in a setting is within eye line of the children, demonstrate how staff can put food in the oven safely using an oven mitt or tea towel. They should be clearly told that these activities are not for them to do, however.
Appliances to hand
Some smaller nurseries may not have fully fitted kitchens and may only have appliances such as kettles or microwaves. Think of ways to get children involved in cooking, thinking about what there is access to. As previously mentioned, there are many recipes to make without the need for an oven, such as making salads, smoothies and sandwiches.
Think about the community and other options that might be available. Perhaps a nursery is located near other houses and relationships are strong with the neighbours. Would they mind a few biscuits being popped in their oven after the children have made them? Or maybe a staff member lives nearby and can run home to put some pizzas in their oven? Think outside the box.
Links to healthy eating
While it is fun to make sweet treats like cakes and biscuits, recipes should be varied, including healthy ones. Children should understand the importance of healthy eating and what can be gained from different foods. They are not too young to learn about the natural sugars in fruit, how we get energy, or how calcium effects our bones.
Identify the different food groups, like protein, dairy, and carbohydrates. Even around incredibly young children, hearing these words is still beneficial, even if they don’t yet understand them. Educate them on where their food comes from, how it effects our bodies and how best to prepare it.
Cooking and hygiene go hand in hand. From hand washing, tying back hair, wearing aprons, cleaning work surfaces, handling and storing food or washing up, there are many things children can do to appreciate good hygiene.
Most will understand that we must wash our hands before eating, so explain it is the same before and during cooking. Show them how to be mindful of the space they are working in and how to keep it tidy, leading to safe and efficient cooking. Older children can get involved with cleaning tables and surfaces and even washing up bowls and spoons.
Cooking is a lifelong skill that all children should learn and there is no set date as to when they can start being taught. Early exposure to food exploration and following recipes creates positive relationships with food, engages their senses and links to other areas of learning such as mathematics (when weighing ingredients).