family cooking in a kitchen together

One of my favourite things to do is kidnap my friends children and get them into the kitchen with me, we have such a great time, giggling as we spill stuff, incorrectly measure things and argue about whose turn it is to add the next ingredient. These days I am practically invisible as they all chat amongst themselves and follow the chosen recipes. I feel lucky when I am asked to turn on the gas or help them cut something, but a part of me feels hugely proud for they have learnt what they know from being allowed into the kitchen not just with me but with their parents and other friends and family.

Cooking together is one of the most under rated things in our society, I hear peoples comments when I suggest they get their kids to help them with dinner ‘ they make too much mess” or “they get in the way”. I have to disagree. Set them aside space and get them to focus on what they are doing, sure they might drop some stuff on the floor, but I do that too and I have been doing cooking way longer than them. I try to assign each child a job that suits their age. The kitchen is such a wonderful great classroom. They can practice their reading by following a method, learn to measure things, gain an understanding of food science and nutrition, along with learning how to chop, grate peel and most importantly cook for themselves.

I find things are much more harmonious if I have discussed what we are going to cook with them. I want them to feel excited about what is going to be served up at the end. I also find they usually eat way much more healthy stuff if they have cooked it and served up their own portion.

I try to reserve treats for special occasions, cake is appropriate for birthdays. Last time it was my friends twins birthday, we shopped for their gluten free chocolate birthday cake ingredients when I picked them up from school then we rushed home to make and bake it. The joy on their faces when they popped the first piece into their mouths was gold.


Birthday treat: Gluten free chocolate cake

  • 125g organic butter, softened
  • ½ cup (125g) brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (40g) gluten free icing sugar
  • 2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup (80g) pure fruit raspberry jam
  • 11/4 cup (155g) gluten free self raising flour
  • ½ cup (60g) cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • 1 cup (250ml) milk
  • Chocolate icing
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to moderate 180 (350F)

  1. Grease and line two 20cm cake tin with baking paper – get the kids to do this with the wrapper from the butter. Also get them to trace and cut out the circles to line the base of the tins.
  2. Beat butter and sugars using light and creamy – if the butter is nice and soft they can do this by hand just like I did when I was a kid, which they all like to have a turn of.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla, beat until combined – make sure you get them to crack the eggs and throw the shells straight in the bin.
  4. Stir in jam and mix until combined.
  5. Sift flour, cocoa and bicarbonate into a large bowl – this is where it can get messy so you may want to supervise closely.
  6. Fold the sifted dry ingredients into the creamed mixture – they will all want a turn doing this.
  7. Stir in milk and mix until combined – this is where the begging to taste before it is cooked begins. 
  8. Pour mixture into tins – I do this, I have to do something!
  9. Bake for 15 -20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre. Allow to cool in tin for 15 minutes before transferring onto a wire rack.
  10. Whilst the cake are cooling make the icing. Sift the cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl, gradually stir in the milk and whisk with a fork until smooth.
  11. Once the cakes have cooled, let them ice and decorate them and be sure to get are photo.

* * *

If I am cooking dinner with any of my friends kids then I have a few rules, whatever we cook needs to have at least four vegetables and a whole grain if possible – I am flexible with the grain but not with the vegetables. Last time my young cooking buddies were over we made large samosas with a cucumber mint yoghurt. They peeled and chopped all the vegetables, measured the spices, cut out the shapes they wanted for their samosas from the puff pastry sheets and filled them, then finished them off by pressing around the edges with a fork. There was not one samosa left out of the ten we made. It was such a joy to see them asking to try each others and complimenting each other on their shapes and discussing how they would change it.

One of my most popular dinner requests from kids is fried rice, over time I have managed to convince them that brown rice is way tastier than white rice for this recipe but recently I have started to push the envelope a bit asking them to try barley in place of the brown rice or at try and combination of the two. The reason for this is that Barley is a wholegrain containing beta-glucans, which means you don’t have a quick drop in blood sugar. Pearl barley is a great choice for people with Diabetes.


Fried sesame chicken and barley

  • 1 1/2 cups pearl barley
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 6 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 cob corn, kernels removed
  • 300g chicken thigh fillets, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon low salt soy sauce
  • ½ cup low salt chicken stock
  • a few drops sesame oil 
  1. Rinse the barley, put the barley a large pan cover with water and boil for 40 minutes or until just soft. Drain well and set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk the eggs in a bowl – get the kids to crack the eggs and whisk them. Egg shells go straight into the bin.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the eggs and swirl to coat the base of the pan, lifting the edges as it cooks so that any uncooked egg can run underneath and set. Once the base is set, flip it and cook the other side, remove it from the pan, cool slightly and cut into thin strips.
  4. Add the spring onions, celery, carrots, capsicum and corn and cook for 5 minutes or until just soft – if you kids are old enough get one of them doing this.
  5. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or browned until tender.
  6. Add the cooked barley, shredded omelette to the pan and cook until the barley is heated through.
  7. Whisk together the sesame seeds, soy, stock and sesame oil – the kids can do this.
  8. Add the sauce to the pan and cook for 3 minutes or until heated through.

Serves 4 


About the author

Jody Vassallo

Jody Vassallo is an award-winning recipe writer and food stylist who has spent the last 20 years writing recipes that inspire people to eat well. She has authored cookbooks for people with diabetes, celiac disease and a range of allergies and food intolerances. Jody has studied both Ayurvedic medicine and Macrobiotic cooking and weaves the wisdom of these traditions through her recipes and stories. For more about Jody go to her website,

Jody Vassallo