Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cooking with Kids

Our children have been involved with helping prepare meals for a few years now. Initially it was my husband's idea, and I was hesitant to share my kitchen and deal with the mess! But by working one-on-one with my four older children, they are now capable of making meals by themselves.

Our 15 year old helps with two meals each week, I do two meals alone, and the 13, 12 and 10 year olds each help with one meal per week. First they wash their hands (or have a shower if they're quite grubby from outdoor play) and clear away dishes or anything else cluttering the bench space. We often wear aprons to protect our clothes, which adds to the atmosphere of getting on with something important. The menu is planned ahead, of course, so we always know how much time to allow. Some preparation tasks happen in the morning, also noted on the meal plan/family calendar.

Once the kitchen is ready to go we gather ingredients - they often start peeling vegetables or cutting up salad whilst I duck out to the garden for any home grown produce required. We put other ingredients from pantry and fridge onto the bench so everything is at hand. As we use it, we put the items away. We also rinse and stack utensils used along the way, and wipe up any spills. This is my way of using a kitchen, and I hope to pass the habit on to them so that cooking sessions don't end up with a big clean-up resulting!

Together we share the task of getting things cooking - measuring, adding, using the Thermomix or rice cooker and chatting as we go. Meanwhile, I am calling the other children in from outdoors to have a shower and clear and set the table so that by the time the food is ready, so are we. Our family eats together every evening.

Each week the children pick up a new skill or two in the kitchen, spend some time with Mum and help the family by preparing a meal. I encourage other family members to express gratitude for their efforts. I try to vary the meals they prepare, starting with basics like pasta. I also try to frequently schedule their favourite foods on the nights they're cooking, to keep them enthusiastic about the task. Since we bought our Thermomix a few months ago, they've been a little hesitant with using it, but as they watch and learn and try things for themselves, they appreciate it more.

We have had the odd burnt pan, some interesting herb or spice additions, and occasionally not quite enough to go around (because I wasn't on hand and they didn't peel and cook enough vegies, for example). But there's been nothing we couldn't eat, and a quick dessert of fruit and yoghurt or custard fills hungry tummies! And really, I could count the kitchen mishaps on one hand, so they're all doing really well.

Two of the girls are great bakers - better than me, I think! They bake at least once a week, which is more often than me, that's for sure. I rarely buy any prepared snack foods, biscuits etc, so that encourages them to make yummies for themselves and the family.

My younger two children are now joining me on "my" nights of cooking to peel some vegetables, put clean dishes away, fetch ingredients and just spend a little time together. Hopefully the six children will all know a lot about food and nutrition, cooking and cleanliness by the time they're grown.

Once we've eaten, the tasks of clearing the table, putting leftovers away, changing the tablecloth and doing the dishes are shared among other family members. It's true that many hands make light work and when we're catering for at least eight people each meal, it's more fun when we share the workload.

Happy Cooking!

Great gift ideas to encourage young cooks include:
Wooden Spoon
Rolling Pin
All Purpose Full Apron
All Purpose Half Apron

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