How To Make Cooking With Your Children Enjoyable
What are your memories of cooking as a child?
Mine revolve around lazy Sundays, which went something like this: roast dinner at lunchtime made by my dad, pancakes for tea with bucket loads of sugar and if we had time to make a chocolate cake in the afternoon, we would scoff that too.
It was all about indulgence and spending time together in the kitchen.
These days, gobbling down meals can feel like an Olympic sport. Research commissioned by Highland Spring showed that on average, families spend 34 minutes together each day.
Carving out time to cook nutritious, home cooked meals is for many families a huge undertaking.
Children might have cooking lessons at school but it’s a good idea to get them excited about cooking in the kitchen at home.
“I’m going to be brutally honest.’ says mum of three Bethan, ‘I loathe cooking with children. This is when I discover the side of me that’s a bit of a control freak.
My eight-year-old can make his own omelette and the younger two only seem interested in mixing and pouring and then wander off – my kids might enjoy it, but I don’t!”
Experienced mum Vanessa suggests that not feeding older children might make them cook for themselves!
Hannah has a six-year-old and a three-year-old and says, “I generally get them to help with stuff that is mainly weighing and mixing ingredients, such as a homemade meatloaf. We also make very simple banana and oat bites”
Allowing your children to feel part of the cooking process seems to be the secret to keeping them interested in the kitchen.
Sophia says: “Olive loves measuring out things for the bread maker and she really good at it. She has been doing it for a few months and has her own apron which she loves putting on. She will be two in February, so hopefully by aged 5 she will be cooking us dinner.”
We chatted with mum of two Claire Packer, whose Instagram account @todaywecooked is all about encouraging the whole family to cook together.
She has shared her top tips as well as three delicious recipes to try with your family.
“I have always cooked with the children. Even when they were tiny babies, they were either strapped to me or in a highchair in the kitchen being handed tastes of this or a try of that.
As they got bigger, they began to actually help. A bunch of herbs in bowl with some kids’ scissors, pulling apart mushrooms with their hands for a pasta dish, mixing flour and water for flatbreads.
Any little job I could give them for a few minutes while I got on with dinner.
Helpful for me. A boost of confidence and responsibility for them. Now they are bigger they help a lot.
Little jobs in the week but often we try to make more time to bake or make something together at the weekend which is much more practical.
It’s a time to get stuck in, make a mess and produce something really good. Or not so good sometimes.”
Her tips on making cooking with kids enjoyable include:
There will be mess. Let it go. It is superficial mess and so far, there has been no permanent damage done here.
My boys bake and cook and they drop flour and butter and the grater full of cheese onto the floor and they spill the milk but it’s all part of it.
When whatever we are making is in the oven, they both get a cloth and dustpan chucked at them and it becomes part of the activity.
It’s so tempting to hover over them sweeping crumbs into your hand and wincing as they pour something sticky into something even stickier but in my experience taking a deep breath, putting on the mess blinkers and getting stuck in is the way to go.
Little jobs. As I mentioned above, cooking doesn’t have to be an afternoon long activity. Asking a child to help with the meal planning and to help you make decisions about what you’ll eat as a family is a lovely way to involve them.
Practically, getting them to cut up some herbs or peel some potatoes or weigh some ingredients makes them feel helpful and needed.
Shortcuts. If you are time poor take whatever shortcuts you need. Weighing out ingredients before they start baking means they can just chuck it all in a bowl.
Take lids off things and get bowls and everything ready before they even enter the kitchen.
Also, there are lots of lovely products out there which take the pressure off. Cake mix kits count. Ready-made pizza bases count. Ready roll pastry definitely counts (my most used ingredient!).
Getting them in the kitchen is the most important thing.
Cook things they like. At first anyway. You can introduce lots of new things to them in time but getting them in there and making things they are definitely going to enjoy is much more motivating.
The kit. I actually don’t think you need that much except maybe a stool to stand on, an apron (definitely) and maybe a kid’s safety knife.
Oh, and plastic bowls will save your lovely ceramic ones.
There are so many transferable skills for children to learn in the kitchen. Weighing, measuring, motor skills, time management as well as the actual preparation of meals.
So many positive reasons to having them in the kitchen with you that it’s definitely worth looking past the mess for!
Three quick and easy recipes to make with your children:
Easy gnocchi recipe, perfect for making with children.
- 3 medium potatoes
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of flour and a little more for flouring surfaces
- Salt and pepper
1. Boil the potatoes and remove the skin.
2. Mash the potatoes well and add seasoning
3. Fold an egg into the potato using a fork.
4. Add the flour a little at a time and bring together into a dough (add more flour if it’s too sticky)
5. Cut the dough into four and roll into long thumb-width cylinders.
6. Cut them into one-inch long pieces
7. You can make patterns in each piece however you like. This is to give a textured surface for sauce to cling to. There are gadgets for this but we used a fork as above ☝️
8. Add the gnocchi to boiling water. When they float to the surface, they are ready. It should take about three minutes.
9. Heat some oil in a frying pan and transfer the gnocchi. Once crisp you can add the sauce you desire. Pesto or a sage butter would both work well.
10. Add fresh herbs right at the end and serve.
- 200g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 100ml warm water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
1. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the warm water a little at a time and stir. Add the oil and mix into a soft dough
2. Knead well for five minutes, divide into four and roll out.
3. Brush some oil onto a griddle or pan. Each flatbread will take about two minutes. They will puff up a little and colour. Once done keep them warm in a tea towel while you cook the others.
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 1 can of chickpeas,
- 1 egg
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- Pinch of salt
1. Grate the sweet potato and put into a bowl. Add the drained chickpeas, egg, flour and spices. Mix together well with a fork.
2. This bit is messy! Get your hands in the bowl and start squeezing the mixture through your fingers. You want to really smoosh (it’s a word) the ingredients together. The chickpeas will mostly break up but it doesn’t matter if some remain whole. Add the salt at the end and mix in.
3. Form the mixture into patties. You should be able to get four or five out of these measurements. Make sure they are not too thick to ensure they cook all the way through. Once made cover the patties and put them in the fridge.
4. When you’re ready to cook put some oil in a pan or onto a griddle. Cook on medium heat for about 3/4 minutes each side or until golden brown.
Are you inspired to cook with the family, but don’t know where to start? Try one of these cookery schools in London to see if there is a course you might enjoy.
Jamie Oliver ‘Kid’s Learn for Free’ cookery classes in Shepherd’s Bush. Courses on offer include Pasta Master, Tasty Thai Green Curry, Become a Sushi Master, Pizza for Pros and more.
The Kid’s Kitchen in Whestone, North London. Show kids how much fun cooking can be and, by involving them in preparing and cooking their own meals, encourage them to try new foods.
Kiddy Cook in South East London. Aims to inspire young people to have fun with food and help them make informed choices towards a healthy lifestyle.
What advice do you have when it comes to cooking with children?