So many parents are put off cooking with their kids because they cannot face the ‘inevitable’ mess. But what would you rather step on – flour or Lego?
Encourage them to smell before tasting
In my experience, parents always say something along the lines of, you have to taste this, it’s yummy. But the whole experience of cooking and eating starts with smell. The chances are that the mention of curry or freshly baked bread triggers the memory of a smell before a taste. Aromas are incredibly important in cooking.
If a person, particularly a child, doesn’t like the smell, they will not entertain tasting the food. But if a child likes the smell, they will be more willing to eat what they have made (even if they might otherwise be put off by something such as the colour or texture).
Don’t expect perfection – they are learning
A lot of parents expect too much from their kids too soon. While it may be frustrating that the food is not chopped the way you would do it or that their hand slips and you end up with too much of one ingredient in a mixture, a little bit of patience can pay great dividends. Explain how big or small you need the veggies to be chopped, add more flour when too much milk has made the sauce too runny – or laugh, tip it away and start again from scratch. Your little one will be more careful next time. After all, in cooking as in life, we learn from our mistakes.
Forget about capturing the moment
Of course, parents are proud of their children. There are plenty of pictures of small children with their amazing cookery creations on social media, but the point of cooking with your child is not to have it look perfect for Instagram. This is about spending time with your favourite small person and giving them the benefit of your knowledge so they can learn valuable skills. So put the phone away and enjoy your time together.
Give them a good knife
Accidents actually happen when knives are not sharp enough. The reason for this is exactly the same for chefs: when we don’t have good knives, we apply too much force to the knife when using it and that is when we get cut – children and adults alike.
I bought my son a ceramic knife when he was five or six, from Ikea. Ceramic knives stay sharp if you don’t put them in the dishwasher. Of course, you only need to start your little one with a paring knife – I don’t recommend them wielding a full-sized kitchen knife. They only have little hands and we’re not asking them to cut great lumps of meat in their early kitchen encounters.
Give them a recipe book and let them choose a recipe
I tend to encourage this for younger children, although I have my own pre-teen who still likes to do this. Just have your child find a recipe that they want you to cook – this is always easier when there is an image for each recipe.
And if you want your child to eat healthy food, only have healthy recipe books on your shelves. Don’t hand them anything that includes deep-frying Mars bars.
Whatever your child chooses, do not put them off it because you think they might not like it. That defeats the object of the exercise. You want to encourage them to embrace the whole recipe and not put them off trying it at all.
Remember when you were stressed on the school run? Your child had started school and moved from Velcro fastenings to shoelaces. You so desperately want to dive in and help but if they don’t learn it, they won’t be able to change their shoes at the swimming pool. Cooking is exactly the same. They are going to drop the knife and hold the peeler the wrong way round, but they have to learn … and they will.
Written by Florence Rabattet, Chef and Founder of En Cuisine – Cooking School
Florence founded En Cuisine Cooking School in 2014. Passionate about food and cooking since her childhood, Florence decided to build her own cooking school designed for children and teenagers. For her, it is fundamental to see the new generations cooking from scratch with seasonal ingredients. In 2023, Florence proudly, became, a Disciple d’Escoffier in London, and reached the semi-finals of Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars on BBC1 (season 2). Full of energy, Florence has a unique style of teaching which children find as irresistible as the food they make.