When I heard Jamie Oliver speak in Toronto in November 2009 about the Food Revolution, I knew that I had to get involved. As a full-time teacher, I did what I could, and started teaching my students how to cook.
I’ve been teaching kids to cook for over five years now in after-school cooking clubs, and I’m a huge advocate for getting home economics back on school curriculums. As well as teaching kids important information about food, where it comes from, and how to prepare it, food education is also teaching valuable academic (maths, reading comprehension, problem solving) and life skills. Getting kids in the kitchen and showing them how to prepare simple, real food meals is setting them up for a future where they are able to make informed choices about what they eat and take control of their health.
Kids need to be introduced to cooking in a fun and engaging way. A lot of people are intimidated by the prospect of cooking with their kids, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five simple tips to help you get in the kitchen cooking with your kids.
1. Make the time
The single most common reason people give for not cooking with their kids is that they do not have time, but it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. Just because you don’t have the time to cook with your kids every night isn’t a reason to never cook with them.
Weekends, when most people have a little more time to spend on the food they eat, are a great place to start. Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend to prepare a meal with your kids. That prep can include shopping for the ingredients (a trip to the local farmer’s market can be a lot of fun!) or just sharing the jobs in the kitchen.
Breakfast is a great introduction to cooking, since it’s the most important meal of the day and full of lots of basics. If you teach your kids a handful of “must know” breakfast dishes, you’re setting them up for life. Pancakes, eggy bread, scrambled eggs, box grater fruit salad or super smoothies are all invaluable, simple, and exciting.
Read more about healthy breakfasts for families by Food Tube’s Kerryann Dunlop for more inspiration.
2. Find the right recipes
Too often, people think that they need a special cookbook for cooking with kids. I disagree.
As a starting point, a book like Jamie’s Ministry of Food cookbook, which teaches “basic cooking skills” and includes recipes for “affordable family meals from scratch at home” is perfect; you’ll teach your kids how to make some of their favourite dishes (spaghetti and meatballs, for example), modified to reduce salt, fat and calories – not that you’d notice those things were missing, because the dishes taste so good. You’re looking for a regular cookbook with well written, easy-to-follow recipes with enough tasks to keep little minds (and hands) busy.
If you’re working with more capable kids or feel confident, look for recipes that challenge both their skill set and palate (like, say chicken tikka masala).
For more ideas and inspiration, check out our Family section!
3. Don’t get hung up on having “the right equipment”
Don’t feel like you need to buy special equipment for your kids – in fact, even if you do,hey will grow out of kid-sized utensils really quickly. With a sharp paring knife (nothing is more dangerous than a dull knife, contrary to what you may think!), and solid cutting boards – both wooden and plastic – secured with a damp cloths or paper towels underneath, you can teach youngsters basic knife skills.
With bowls of various sizes, you can impart the wisdom of separating rubbish (food scraps in one bowl, other rubbish in another), and encourage them to keep their workspace clean. Both knife skills and the concept of cleaning as they go will take them far!
If you’re wondering if your kitchen is “equipped” enough to be cooking with kids, check out Jamie’s “must-have kitchen kit” in the video below. You’ll find a sensible list of items you probably already have like a food processor, a kettle, a selection of pans and trays, a Dutch oven, a sieve, a colander, cake racks, a scale, a pestle and mortar, a box grater, measuring jugs and cups, tongs, a vegetable speed peeler… Do you see a pattern here? That’s right – nothing too out of the ordinary and items you most likely already own.
4. Don’t worry if your kids are “picky” eaters
Involving your kids in meal preparation, even if it’s a meal they claim to dislike, is a great way to encourage interest in food and cooking, as well as encourage the acquisition of new tastes.
Make sure there is at least one component that they will absolutely eat, and encourage them to try just one bite of the rest – you might be surprised to see your fussy eater eating more than you expect. Kids are more likely to taste what they make themselves, out of curiosity if nothing else.
Even if they don’t end up loving what you make together, rest assured that you are still teaching them valuable kitchen skills – and hey, you never know, they might get there eventually. Just don’t make a big deal out of it – one bite is enough, and often they will eat much more than that with time!
5. Be patient
Yes, it’s probably quicker if you do it yourself, but remember the old saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, the same goes for cooking.
The more you cook with kids, the faster they will be. Be be patient as they carefully chop their first onion or mince the garlic at an agonisingly slow rate, and resist the urge to “do it for them” just because it’s faster –they’ll never learn if you don’t let them try on their own. Just factor in extra time when preparing even simple recipes, and soon you’ll find that the more you cook with your kids, the less and less of that extra time you’ll need.
So, get into the kitchen with your kids – it doesn’t have to be complicated. Set aside some time this weekend, ask your kids to help you choose a recipe, take them shopping, and go from there. I can’t think of a better way to promote food education than in your own home.