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Getting kids into the kitchen

Encouraging your children into the kitchen may seem daunting, but it is a fantastic way to boost so many of their skills. Jo Caruana offers ideas for helping the process along in a safe and fun way.

With the right supervision, there is no reason why children can’t enjoy helping out in the kitchen.With the right supervision, there is no reason why children can’t enjoy helping out in the kitchen.

Although undeniably the heart of the home, most kitchens are usually mum or dad’s domain. After all, this is the place where water boils, hot pans wobble and large knives linger, so it’s only natural to want to keep our children at bay when we’re busy heating, slicing or sautéing our way to dinner.

However, while it is vital to be vigilant, experts everywhere sing the praises of kitchen activities for kids. Yes it is important to show them how food is cooked and prepared, but they can also learn so much more, including maths skills, nutritional choices, hygiene awareness, cultural references and reading skills, to name but a few. It also builds confidence, as children are excited by the idea that they played a part in putting the family meal on the table, or saw a task through from beginning to end.

One mum who understands the benefits of encouraging children into the kitchen is Nikki Attard. Although she’s a single mum and time is tight, she tries to make time to bake with her boys, who are aged four and eight.

“Life hasn’t been easy recently as my older son has been unwell, so we have had to focus our time and energy on his surgeries, as well as helping him heal. However I was always aware of how important it is to create happy memories for the boys, and time together in the kitchen is ideal for that.

“Although I have an aversion to eggs, baking seemed like the best bet to get us going, so I hunted for egg-free recipes online and was impressed by the variety out there. Over the past couple of months we have tried making all sorts of cakes, cupcakes and biscuits, and the results have been super.

“The boys love it because they feel a sense of independence and creativity, and I let them decorate their work however they please. They also enjoy sharing the results of our cooking sessions, and that has taught them how wonderful it feels to give and share. The whole experience has also built their confidence in a fantastic way. After all, who doesn’t like to get complimented on their cooking? Plus it’s wonderful to spend quality time together as a family.”

As Nikki has discovered, there are all sorts of skills that your children can learn while in the kitchen. Why not try out some of the options below?

Measuring and pouring. Even very young children will enjoy watching you measure out wet and dry ingredients as you explain the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Encourage them to count amounts with you and, as they get older, to scoop out the ingredients themselves. School-age children will start to measure things on their own and you can also help them to understand the conversion differences between recipes from Europe and the US.

Over the past couple of months we have tried making all sorts of cakes, cupcakes and biscuits, and the results have been super

Mixing and stirring. Stirring is actually a great job to get children started on, especially when it’s dry ingredients being mixed. Little ones will enjoy getting stuck in using a wooden spoon or spatula, while older children can begin to understand different techniques such as whisking or beating. As your children gets older, help them to use an electric whisk or beater, and to learn more complicated methods such as ‘folding in’.

Making preparations. As you know, there’s lots to be done in the kitchen before you can even get started on the cooking! Children can understand this and will enjoy helping to prepare their food – such as tearing up lettuce, scrubbing potatoes, cutting up soft fruit with a blunt knife, and cracking eggs. More and more culinary skills can be taught as they get older too, including mincing, chopping, dicing and even separating eggs.

Getting cleaned up. Of course, once the cooking is done, there’s the clean-up mission to contend with. It’s important to involve children here too, so they learn about the various phases and challenges early on. They could wipe spills and sweep the floor, or add the soap to the dishwashers and press the ‘start’ button on the dishwasher. As time goes on, encourage them to wash and dry dishes, load or empty the dishwasher, put items away and tidy surfaces.

The finishing touches. Finally, as all good chefs know, the real fun starts with serving up. Young children can get involved with laying the table and maybe drawing pictures to decorate it, or picking flowers to put in a vase. Older children can pour drinks and dish up, and even bring their culinary accomplishments to the table for a round of applause. Dinner is served.

Top tips

• Need some advice on how to encourage your kids into the kitchen? Follow these quick and handy tips.

• Keep kitchen safety high on the agenda. Create a list of rules and stick to it.

• Be patient. If you’re cooking for a dinner party, then this probably isn’t the best time to involve your kids for the first time. Plan a session that suits when you can all get stuck in and enjoy it.

• Relax – it’s okay if things get messy and it’s all part of the learning process. Similarly, if the recipe doesn’t look quite right, that’s OK. Remember that it’s effort and creativity that matter most.

• Get your little ones an age-appropriate recipe book so they can thumb through for inspiration. If they want to create something, give them the space to do so and encourage independence.

• Finally, thank them for their help in the way you’d like them to thank you. Celebrate what you’ve achieved together and enjoy it.

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