‘I want to cut the carrots! And stir the soup too! But I can’t reach the pot, I cannot see!’ What is only well-intentioned on the part of the child and shows a genuine interest in preparing meals can quickly become a chaotic affair in the kitchen in hectic everyday life. Cooking with young children requires one thing first: a lot of time.
Most children become interested in cooking between the ages of 4 and 5. They see what their parents are sizzling, frying or cooking and they also experience the preparation work, such as cleaning ingredients, plucking herbs and cutting vegetables. And they really want to help! They grab the knife and start chopping away wildly which can be quite a scary experience for their guardians. Of course, young children are not yet able to do all the work around the kitchen – some things are simply too dangerous at this age. Nevertheless, children often have much more potential than we would expect and it’s about trusting them to do certain things.
Encourage the desire to cook and provide assistance
The first attempts in the kitchen are often made when baking cookies. Kneading dough, rolling it out and cutting out shapes with cookie cutters – even the little ones love it! The cookies are then lovingly decorated where children can live out their artistic creativity. And what’s the best part? Of course, snacking them away afterwards!
The cutting is more difficult: but a 3-year-old can practice to chop soft fruit or vegetables with a knife under surveillance of an adult. There are knives with a blunt blade especially for children. Real kitchen knives can be introduced later when the children are older. However, it is important to learn how to use the various kitchen utensils correctly right from the start. For example, cutting should always be done away from the body and hot pots should only be touched with a potholder. Fat in the pan can splatter and it is easy to scald yourself when draining potatoes or pasta.
How do we teach those techniques and be a good role model for our little ones? By constantly commenting on our own activities in the kitchen as an adult, children almost automatically grow into these tasks too. However, using electrical kitchen appliances (such as a blender) is not recommended for children in preschool. Here, too, the children should be introduced slowly once they are older and only be allowed to use them occasionally.
A sense of achievement
When children are learning to cook, they want nothing more than a sense of achievement. It is therefore best to start with simple dishes that will most likely succeed. Even primary school children can prepare the ever-popular pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese with a little help. However, it goes without saying that the tomato sauce should be freshly prepared – because simply opening a can is way too easy, right? Pancakes or pizza are also dishes that children can help with diligently. A big hurdle has already been overcome when the child can read. Then they can weigh the ingredients independently and use the recipe to find out how to prepare them. Nevertheless, a helping hand can be useful, especially at the beginning of a cooking career. After all, many tricks and tips are not to be found in any cookbook, but rather come from the wealth of experience of the family. For instance, if the child has a grandparent who loves to cook and shares that hobby, the child can pick up valuable knowledge very quick. The parents can encourage to cook together when the children are visiting their grandparents again.
Cooking with children also means a little chaos in the kitchen
Cooking with children is definitely not a clean affair. Especially at preschool age, it’s not uncommon to feel like you could collect your meal from the kitchen floor after being around the stove. There are spills and spills, things get broken or knocked over. Well, cooking needs to be learned and the more experience you have, the less chaos there is in the kitchen. But one thing should be clear from the outset: tidying up is an inevitable part of the job! Flour bags, butter dishes, breadcrumbs – everything is put back in its place. Waste goes in the bin and used dishes are washed or put in the dishwasher. This is something where children definitely can (and should) help and learn to tidy up after themselves.
Healthy eating and independence
When children learn to cook, it is much more than simply preparing a meal. They learn very basic things about healthy eating, independence and get to know a wide variety of foods. But not only that. Being able to prepare and care for a healthy and delicious meal yourself is an incredibly valuable skill. Therefore, children also learn independence and self-reliance and especially if they don’t miss out on the fun of cooking, they are very likely to continue doing it. We can support them by giving in to their desire to help and leading them by the hand into the world of cooking.