Cooking and sharing food with others is in my blood. I grew up cooking with my mum, and my memories of childhood are full of epic dinner parties at our house. I count myself lucky to have been involved in food preparation at home from an early age, and am so grateful to my mum for giving me that gift.
Unfortunately, many people feel they don’t have time to cook from scratch, let alone cook with their kids, and both are becoming less and less common. If, like Jamie Oliver, you believe that “getting kids cooking from as early as possible helps them to develop an essential life skill” then it’s time to get involved.
Teaching kids to choose and cook better food, and to think about where their food comes from, are fundamental goals of this year’s Food Revolution Day (May 16th 2014). Jamie is encouraging everyone to work together to “get kids excited about food”, showing the importance of cooking good food from scratch and how it affects our health and happiness.
The Food Revolution Day website offers lots of suggestions for getting involved, and doing your bit on the day can be as simple as helping a child cook a meal from scratch with one of the official recipes. Alternatively, you can take part in the biggest-ever live cooking lesson led by Jamie himself and learn how to make a rainbow salad wrap – the goal is to break a Guinness World Record and get one million kids cooking on the day!
Like those at the heart of making Food Revolution Day happen (this is my third year taking part), one of my main goals is to encourage people to get kids and their families excited about food beyond the day itself. I’ve run after-school cooking clubs for over four years, teaching cooking basics to younger students and more complex dishes to older students. Watching the kids excitedly prepare a meal from scratch and then taste it is one of my favourite parts of the week. At my school, it’s a mini Food Revolution every week!
Simple ways to get kids excited about food
1. Use real cookbooks!
Over the years, I’ve learned that you don’t need special kids’ cookbooks – in particular, Jamie’s recipes teach basic cooking skills whatever your age! If you set the bar high, kids will come up to meet you – they have a fearless “can do” attitude when it comes to cooking! With a great recipe, a little guidance and encouragement, kids can cook proper food that tastes great.
2. Choose dishes they already like!
It’s easy to get kids excited about preparing dishes that they already love. Recipes I’ve successfully made with my students include granola, crunchy chicken fingers and “fries”, sausage rolls, lasagna, tomato soup, meatballs and pizza – all dishes whose store-bought versions often contain too much fat, sugar and salt (not to mention unpronounceable ingredients). They are, however, easy to make from scratch and my students are always amazed how “real” our versions taste. Feedback from parents also tells me that many of these dishes have become regulars for family dinners.
3. Get organised!
Cooking with kids is fun but involves some organisation. Basic strategies like reading your recipe from start to finish (on your own and with the kids) and double checking you have all the necessary ingredients/equipment before you start, then grouping these in the order they will be used, are essential in setting up an organised and safe environment. Clean up as you go – wipe work surfaces/cutting boards clean after each step and put unneeded items in the sink or dishwasher. Always use a scrap bowl for food waste, as it helps keep workstations clean.
A little prep goes a long way in ensuring a smooth kitchen session, and will encourage both adults and kids to want to continue cooking together.
Things won’t always go to plan. Your kitchen might be a little chaotic, but that’s OK; mistakes happen, but use them as teachable moments. Showing kids what to do when things go wrong in the kitchen (like, say, someone dicing bacon instead of cutting strips) is setting them up for success later in life too.
5. Have fun!
If you’re enjoying working with food, kids are likely to be enthusiastic too. And if kids are having fun, they won’t even realise they are practicing other skills like maths and reading comprehension, both of which are part of following a recipe.
Cooking with kids doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by setting aside time once a week to cook a meal together. I can’t think of a better way to get kids excited about food beyond Food Revolution Day than carving out time to cook (and eat) with them regularly.