My daughter Z has been ‘helping’ me out in the kitchen since she was a little over two years old. It started with her perched on the shelf beside me as I attempted to add some variety to our rather mundane days stuck at home during a particularly rainy patch of February. I put a plate of eggs in front of her to peel for some Aloo Anday and she thoroughly enjoyed cracking and then peeling apart the skin. It took her quite some time to get the hang of things and she managed to damage most of the eggs, but she had fun and kept her busy.
Today, Z is a pro egg-peeler.
In fact, Z is a pro potato peeler, pro garlic peeler, pretty much pro in general at a lot of kitchen tasks such as mixing up a delicious cake batter, pitting dates, rolling out a mad round roti (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know!), stirring soups and curries (assisted closely, of course!) amongst so much more!
I’m a HUGE advocate of getting kids into the kitchen! It’s a majorly beneficial life skill and its so much good fun for them. I know being in the kitchen has been massively beneficial for my daughter and I’m glad I started getting her involved from such a young age.
Why bother cooking with our children?
There are SO many reasons to get your children into the kitchen with you! You will find it a great opportunity to bond with your child and have fun with them whilst also getting something productive done. Your child will also love the time they are spending with you whilst having fun! Here are some reasons you should start getting your kids involved in the kitchen:
- As mentioned above, it’s a fantastic way to bond with your child. The time I spend with my daughter in the kitchen is one of my favourite times with her and I know we are making beautiful memories that we’ll both remember forever
- Helps improve their vocabulary, as they learn about new ingredients, flavours, colours etc
- It’s a great opportunity to open discussion about concepts such as healthy eating, the joys of cooking for our near and dear ones, food hygiene, fire safety and much more, depending on their age.
- They learn a variety of new skills, such as hand-eye co-ordination in activities such as rolling out the dough, stirring and spooning out ingredients such as spices and flours to name some examples , organisation, sorting.
- They also practice their numeracy skills (E.g., ‘Can you put 4 strawberries in the bowl?’, ‘Lets put 1 cinnamon stick in this’, etc)
- It’s a great exercise in following instructions – something which can be helpful in other areas too
- They’re learning a great life-long skill that will benefit them majorly as they grow up. No one can deny that learning how to cook from a young age is not only impressive, but also important!
- They gain confidence in their own skills as they are positively reinforced
- They feel proud of themselves when they present their finished good to other members of their family of friends! The amount of joy they feel is so raw and real, it sometimes makes me shed a tear! :’-)
- It exposes them to new ingredients or foods they may not usually be fond of. By being involved with the preparation and cooking process, they may be more willing to eat those foods! I know this is how I’ve gotten my daughter into eating roti, eggs and a variety of vegetables 😉 This can be particularly helpful for picky eaters!
When can they begin?
They can begin whenever!
Little fingers can help sort vegetables out, peel cooked potatoes, stir or whisk up batters. In all honestly, when they are little simply playing with ingredients in the kitchen environment is fantastic and mentally stimulating for them.
When they understand the concept of hot IMO they can potentially come closer to the hob and get involved with stirring a simmering pot (For Z, this was when she was about 2 years and few months). I wish I had started earlier than I did!
Its important to ensure child has a fully understanding of the concept of hot before bringing them anywhere near the stove. Explain to them that fire and oven is hot, we do not touch. When they are stirring they need to know not to touch the pot or pan. Of course, their understanding of this will depend on their age and maturity, therefore if you feel they are not ready or at a stage where they can understand this it’s best to simply keep them away from any fire or heat until they are older. A 4 year old will have a far better concept of hot than a 2 year old.
Whenever the hob is on, it is imperative that they are supervised the entire time. Fire safety is nothing to take lightly!
I would also not recommend bringing them anywhere near any deep frying.
Also, make them aware they are not allowed to touch the kettle/keep the kettle well away from them. The kettle isn’t a fire hazard of course but it definitely carries the risk of burns therefore it is appropriate to mention this here.
Examples of Tasks Children Can Do
This list isn’t extensive!
Sorting foods – This is a great activity for kids of all ages! This doesn’t even need to serve an actual purpose or have a goal. For e.g., you can provide your child with a bowl mixed with different beans and ask them to separate them as a game.
Measuring foods out – This is probably better with an electric scale for children
Peeling cooked potatoes, garlic and eggs by hand – This was the first activity I got my daughter involved in
Mixing and stirring – Mixing raw batter for cakes and baked goods, pakoras etc is a great choice for younger children who aren’t yet ready to go near heat. For older children, stirring (slowly of course!) can be upgraded to soups, curries, porridge etc. It has become somewhat of a morning ritual for my daughter to stir and cook her own breakfast porridge!
Decorating baked goods – This is likely to become their favourite!
Cutting soft foods like bananas, kiwis, cooked potatoes – This should be done with a plastic knife for younger children, or a butter knife where and when appropriate for older children.
Using a cookie cutter – By default, ones mind goes to baking cookies for this but there are so many more uses! This is officially Z’s favourite way of making a roti/paratha, with a heart-shaped cookie cutter! We also use it for kebabs, pizzas, bread and fruit. Heart shaped everythinggggggggg for little Miss Z please!
Transferring things from bowl into the pot/pan – This could be as simple as spooning cake batter into the baking tin, or adding vegetables into the pot for soup. Anything that requires transferring something from one bowl/pot to another essentially.
Stirring under close supervision – As mentioned above, for children who are old enough to understand the concept of hot
Sprinkling spices and herbs into the pot – Using their hands or a tsp
Mashing potatoes – This is a fun one! You can get the kids very excited about smashing into the potatoes. We usually end up with mashed potatoes in Z’s hair, clothes, face, everywhere because she gets so involved!
Plating/sorting food to distribute – We are blessed with some wonderful neighbours with whom we often exchange food. Z loves packing up her baked goods and presenting them to our neighbours. Immense pride and joy is a wonderful thing to see in children!
Things I like to make with Z
Cookies – especially sugar cookies which she can cut out using a cookie cutter. The cookies can then be decorated later with colourful icing and add-ons such as chocolate chips, melted chocolate, coconut, sprinkles etc which is particularly fun!
Cakes – I find this to be my favourite thing to do with her! Its lots of mixing and measuring, which she enjoys, and the best bonus is I don’t need to fret about fire safety because the stove isn’t involved with this and her activities don’t involve going near the oven. I’ve found a number of healthier cakes often which involve the use of fruits as sweeteners, some of which have become regulars at my house now, so cake baking has become more frequent and more guilt-free with us!
Any baked good, really
Salads – These are fun to assemble. I cut, she adds them into the bowl. This is quite an easy and light one. Some vegetables she can help me prepare – for example, she helps me with pomegranates, cutting softer vegetables with a butter knife eg asparagus, cherry tomatoes.
Rotis and parathas – Most kids love the process of rolling out the dough. My daughter will happily eat the rotis she’s rolled out too, yay!
Anything that involves lots of mashing – examples include Aloo Tikkis, simple mashed potatoes, Aloo Parathas, etc
Pizza – This is a favourite, because Z gets to roll out the dough and get a go at spreading her choice of toppings too. I also like making pizza with her because it’s a good way of exposing her to vegetables she may otherwise not get exposed to e.g. capsicums (bell peppers), mushrooms etc. At the time of writing this (She’s 3 years and 2 months) she can get involved with cutting some soft vegetables with supervision with a butter knife or grating cheese
Pastries – Similar concept the pizza, if you’re making a pizza-style open faced pastry. If not, then folding the pastry or cutting shapes out using a cookie cutter and using a fork to seal the edges is a fun idea for kids.
Utensils and Items To Make Things Fun & Easier For Children
So aside from the basics we all are likely to have such as bowls for mixing, wooden spoons, aluminum foil and greaseproof paper, I find that having some additional equipment helps make things more fun and engaging for the children. For e.g., having measuring cups or a scale allows for the children to begin measuring things for themselves as opposed to relying on us.
These are some things I recommend having to make things better in the kitchen! These are all linked to the Amazon website, since Amazon is pretty much every Mums life saver, amIright? 😉 Even better if you have Prime because hello instant gratification!
Cookie cutters are an essential for making things fun and creative for Z. We currently own a very basic cookie cutter set which gets the job done for us. The above plastic set of 12 cookie cutters is great for a basic set at a great price. It’s nice and bright for kiddies too, bonus! For something more fancy, perhaps to please older children, the set of 16 above is a great step up with more variety in shapes and would potentially be great for cookie decorating for themed events.
Z uses these knives when she cuts bananas, potatoes or any soft item. They work a treat. And added bonus for these is since they are so colourful, it is easy to teach Z that these are ‘her’ knives and that she isn’t to use ‘my’ knives, the obviously more sharp and dangerous ones not suitable for her. Now that Z is 3 and half and rather experienced in the kitchen department, we do occasionally use butter knives but these are still great to have on hand.
An electric scale is a must for me regardless of whether or not Z is with me in the kitchen. I just can’t do all this andaaza (estimation) stuff, it makes my head hurt! Having an electric scale just makes following online recipes so much easier and more accurate. I own this scale from Amazon and it does the job perfectly. There are more expensive and fancy scales out there but I really don’t think they are necessary.
Some recipes call for measurements using cups and spoons. Something like this is really handy to have. Remember, we can guesstimate and use andaaza if you like to live that risky life on the edge, but for children it’s great to have a more concrete form of measurement. It’s also useful for getting them to understand how to measure out something and how to hold cups and spoons in an appropriate manner (great for hand eye co-ordination).
OK, so I’m a total sucker when it comes to pretty cupcake cases! It adds so much cuteness to a baked good! Not to mention cupcakes are a great idea when you want to bake a small batch and don’t want to end up with a big cake you won’t be able to finish. I’ve linked above to some gorgeously adorable cupcake cases on Amazon however these are rather large quantities – you can very easily pick up a smaller batch of cupcake cases from the pound shop.
Alternatively, silicone cupcake pans are probably more of a worthwhile investment and more practical. I used to use these a lot before Z got involved in the kitchen because they’re just super convenient and less faff as compared to using paper cupcake cases.
Having some sort of apron is usually a good idea, especially if your child doesn’t like getting messy or dirty like mine! You can get the full apron or a half apron, whichever your child would be more comfortable with or is more appropriate for according to their age.
So finally, these are a non-essential item but something I really cherish and enjoy having as part of my kitchen. Anyone who knows me personally will know I am HUGE on books for Z. We has a huge variety of books and this includes cookbooks, some child friendly and some which I have from my younger days which Z likes flipping through too.These books I’ve linked above are all books Z has at home.
I have to say (and some may disagree with me), there is something quite else about cooking with your child following instructions from a book. It takes me back to when I was a little child and teetering about the kitchen with a book held open using two cups.
Anyone who knows me will also know I’m not huge on excessive screen time, therefore I prefer keeping screens away for the most part when we are cooking – therefore that means we don’t really cook together with a tab or mobile phone video on site. Like I said, some may disagree with me and this is a non-essential, but I definitely like having a good repertoire of children’s books to hand.
Dos and Don’ts
Do be patient – Our little ones are sensitive and can feel the negativity when we are being pushy or rushed. They are little after all, all these skills are new to them and they will take practice to master them – and they’ll also want to have fun! Cooking with kiddos will NEVER be a quick activity!
Do be encouraging about their contribution, however small – make a big deal of all their little achievements! Even if they just threw some salt into the pan, make a fuss of how they contributed! They love the fuss and it’ll encourage them to engage and learn even more
Do let them be creative – Let their imagination run wild, do what they suggest! If they want to make shapes on the shepherds pie, why not? Make a mountain of olives on the pizza, they’re the boss! In some cases, they will learn what works and what doesn’t this way.
Do praise them – It’s no secret kids love praise for what they do. ‘What wonderful peeling!’, ‘I love how you’ve mashed those potatoes!’, ‘That’s a very tasty looking salad!’ – Watch what a beautiful smile these words bring to their faces!
Do be descriptive – Talk LOTS! Name all the ingredients, ask them to repeat them too.Talk colours, textures, tastes – treat it like you’re teaching them… because you really are!
Do be silly and funny – make it a positive learning experience
Do be extra extra cautious about fire safety and burning hazards – This is NOT something to take lightly at all!
Do keep the countertops clear of clutter so their attention is focused on the task – Help keep them engaged
Do get them involved in cleaning up too! – You will thank yourself for this one! Firstly, it is another great activity for them to get involved with the tidying up process and it also teaches them about the necessity of cleaning up. Depending on the age of your child, this could also be a great opportunity to talk to them about hygiene too. So we’ve actually got this down so well that Z doesn’t allow me to wipe down the shelves after we are done cooking a joint meal! *definitely not complaining*
Don’t be rushed or pushy – Avoid telling them to hurry up, that they’re wasting time, that they are not doing it properly etc. Instead, if you must say something positive like ‘Perhaps we should try it like this…’, ‘We need to hurry up with that, otherwise we might burn the sauce!’ etc. Children are very receptive to criticism and harsh words, therefore avoid this when they’re in the kitchen. After all, they are small and new to this and it’s all an exploration for them! Allow them to be kids and take their time having fun along the way.
Don’t give them more than they can handle – otherwise they may feel deflated when they don’t succeed. Challenge them yes, but don’t give them a mammoth task that they are not yet ready for as this can be overwhelming or upsetting for them. Bear in mind they may not apply to all children.
Don’t take fire safery and burning hazards lightly! Repeating this again in ths Don’t section because it’s just that important! I repeat, DON’T take fire safety lightly! Be vigilant at ALL times and take no risks!
Don’t let them touch raw meat – Raw meat can spread bacteria and you’re better of just explaining to them that this is Mama’s department, rather than risking the potential spread of nasties
Don’t let them near food processors, blenders, grinders, etc unsupervised – Safety first always! No risk is worth the dangers of a blade
Don’t expect it to be a quick affair. It will take MUCH longer than you think it will! So it probably won’t be a great idea to get your child involved for the first time when you’re preparing for a dinner party the same evening!
I hope this has been a helpful read! And most importantly, I hope this has encouraged you to get your little one in the kitchen! Without doubt, getting my little Z into the kitchen with me has been one of my best parenting moves and it makes me proud on a daily basis how much she has learnt and grown thanks to it!
With love, Fatima x