Before I had kids and that unique blend of tiredness and over-caffeination kicked in, there was just my kitchen and I.
I’d come home after a late meeting at work and look forward to an evening of baking. I’d turn on my music, pick out some new complicated french pastry to create from scratch and bake away the stresses of my busy job.
All. By. Myself.
Then, as my boys, Eli and Misha, got older things changed. My kitchen became a place where I washed up plastic cups and mush vegetables before nap-times.
At the same time the boys also became very insistent on ‘helping me out’ in the kitchen.
As a toddler and preschooler, Eli would pull up a chair and stay there, constantly asking me ‘shall I do that for you, mama?’.
Including kids in the kitchen
At 2, I honestly didn’t think he was capable of doing much of the cooking activities I was involved in.
My motherly guilt for not letting him participate was ever-present and whenever he asked to join, my heart melted with love for that little boy. But frankly speaking I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine how to practically include him in my much-loved hobby.
In the end I decided to dive in the deep end and take him along my journey of French pastry making and teach him the ropes how best I could.
I quickly realised that at their young ages the kids couldn’t read or understand fractions. So out of sheer necessity I developed my own materials, which developed into a cookbook for kids and a course (plus planner) for adults that I wish I’d had when I was starting out all those years ago.
The 3 stages of cooking with kids
Throughout my journey I’ve talked to a-ma-zing people, from professional chefs to passionate cooking school teachers to homeschooling parents.
I’ve also had the honour of interviewing dozens of parents, teenagers and young kids about their love for cooking. We spoke at length about this life-skill and what it’s meant to them individually and as a family.
You may be surprised to know that *every* single parent who’s taught their kids to cook said that they experienced 3 distinct stages.
Stage 1: Accept that it will be messy but that it’s OK
Us parents are busy people and basic survival skills would suggest avoidance of activities that require more cleaning.
I get it.
When I started out I would try and keep everything clean because I really (reaaaaallly) did not want to spend my time getting flour out of unreachable surfaces.
It even got to the point that I’d try and take over pouring, measuring, stirring, just so I’d be able to contain the mess. It was simply frustrating and I doubt either of us had any fun.
Once I accepted that cooking with kids = mess and figured that spending 5 or 10 minutes cleaning at the end was not going to be the biggest of jobs, I could let go and enjoy it. By doing so, was able to pass on the enjoyment to the kids.
Stage 2: See your kids grow by just *being* in the kitchen
Kids love being in the kitchen; I don’t know whether it’s more important for them because they get to copy their grownups, or because they get to experience different smells, colors and textures.
Regardless, for them it’s about being.
Being in the moment.
Being with you.
Being a part of your world.
Being seen as big enough to participate.
All you need to show up and be present when cooking and the results don’t matter.
It’s an insight I wish I’d had a long time ago because it’s profoundly freeing.
The overwhelming amount of input on raising our kids can leave us in a place where we feel that we have to set out activities for kids in order to learn or have fun.
Instead, with cooking all you need to do is let them be there with you. You can allow them to do something, or not. Whatever works for you. But just accept that being there will start something beautiful.
Stage 3: Build a routine
When I started cooking with Eli, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. Cooking alone could not be more different than cooking with young kids. You need eyes and ears everywhere, you need to be prepared and most of all, you need to keep things moving.
Down the line I realised there are some key points that, had I considered them before starting to cook, I would have made life so much easier on myself.
If I had thought about the process as a whole – which shops to go to and at what times to avoid them, how food packaging is handled by their little hands, what routine to follow – our first years of cooking would have yielded more learning.
Get through these stages and you will understand the recipes that work for you and your kids, in your specific kitchen environment and with ingredients that are good for your family.
Win a head start on planning
To get a head start on learning how to cook with kids we’re giving away a complete Little Cookery course and recipe project packs. The course teaches you into considering all things cooking in light of your own kids and environment.