Something I like to do every year for Christmas, is whilst I'm making our annual Christmas Day bonanza feast, let my gorgeous nephews Darius and Cyrus help with the cooking,. I let them stir sauces, mix ingredients and generally get them involved in the process in any small way that I can. They absolutely love it and especially now that they are a little older (6 and 8) it really does make the whole affair much easier. I started with Cyrus when he was a toddler. He used to come into the kitchen and watch me and I would always make a point of talking to him and showing him what I was doing. He may not have been able to say more than a few words, but he was engrossed in it all.
Every Christmas, his interest seem to increase and he began to ask questions about the ingredients and processes and would stare intently into the oven, watching the roast. He used to refer to my rib of beef as the “big sausage” because he would see all the little sausages I would cook alongside the meal. I love cooking with my nephews, especially as their Mother (god forgive me) was never exactly the domestic type (sorry Lils) and now they are complete food-a-holics. In fact my cousin says that every time I walk through the door of their house, the kids expect a full meal courtesy of yours truly! Fair enough, as that’s usually what they get. But what has given me immense pleasure is the fact that my cousin is now cooking regularly, watching ‘Saturday Kitchen’ and other TV cookery shows and is taking a genuine, if not somewhat long overdue, interest in cooking and it really makes me smile.
Cooking with kids is something that so many people have problems with, but personally I can’t understand why. As in most things, true success often relies on an element of trust and you will need to find a recipe that you would trust your children to help you with. I myself, am one of the biggest perfectionists around. Did I say perfectionist? I meant control freak. But in the most loving of ways, of course. Being a control freak means you often find it hard to unload tasks on to other people, for fear that they may not turn out how ‘you’ want them to be. So trying to get Cyrus and Darius involved, began being a tad difficult, but you would be surprised at just how intently they listen and how carefully they carry out my instructions. Everything from crushing garlic, stirring sauces, opening packets, measuring things out and getting their hands dirty mixing anything from cake mix to burger mix in a big bowl. They absolutely love it all. Obviously they are too young for knife-work and I tend to make sure that A) They are no where near a heat source…. B) There are no knives or sharp objects anywhere… and C) Counter surfaces and floors aren’t wet or slippery, ensuring they don’t hurt themselves. As long as these 3 pointers are covered, they are “Happy as Larry” and you can kick back, enjoying the useful help that they are actually giving you!
Kids tend to relish cooking, where as most adults find it a chore. We don’t like to make mess, but they do! We don’t like to get our hands dirty, but they do! We don’t like to set the table, but they do! We don’t like to have to clean or wash up after, but they do! Get it??? They LOVE to do the stuff we hate, because for our little munchkins, getting involved with doing what you do each day, makes them feel grown up and gives them extra time to bond with you. They view it very differently than we do… and if you start ‘em young, when they are older they will be cooking meals and washing dishes for the whole family! If that isn’t a reward for good parenting, then I don’t know what is.
If I have children one day, I fully intend on packing intense flavour into their food from an early age. From the time they can eat pureed baby food, why should I spice it with some chillies or curry powder? It’s the very best time to introduce a little subtle flavour into their diet. Garlic, ginger, lemongrass etc. Its good to broaden a child’s palate from an early age. With my eldest nephew Cyrus, he is definitely more of a finnickety eater than Darius, his younger brother. I think this was because Cyrus was the first born and as new parents you don’t know what you should be doing, so you do everything to suit the baby, instead of suit your own life. Darius was raised eating whatever the adults were eating. As a result, Darius eats whatever you put in front of him. Spicy, raw, fruity, sweet… WHATEVER! He loves it all and never complains, unless it’s bland!
Some great suggestions for cooking with kids when they are young, is to start with cake making. I use Betty Crocker Chocolate Brownie Mix (see pics above) and then I get them to stir in the eggs and milk into the mixture and then buy a selection of goodies they can add in. Chocolate chips, pecan nuts, marshmallows etc, they love stirring the mixture and then spooning them into fairy cake cases ready for baking. Now they get involved in all the savoury stuff do and they are even quite cocky with it (which is great!) and say “Its ok Aunty, I know what I’m doing!” and they roll their eyes when I’m trying to show them something, because they now know exactly what needs to be done without me saying it! Little monsters, but I absolutely love them to pieces.
Try getting them involved in whatever you normally make at home. Don’t feel you need to go especially out of your way to accommodate the kids. They will be happy with any kind of task you give them. Just make it sound fun! Things like fishcakes are always great, burgers, lettuce wraps filled with any kind of meat, fajitas etc. They love food that can be assembled at the table, it makes it more fun for them and also is a good way to get them eating vegetables, if they have to ‘build’ layers of ingredients to get the end result.
Make one day a week a time when you all cook together. Involve them in any way you can, big or small. Don’t be scared to delegate tasks to them, as long as they are supervised, they’ll be fine. Most importantly, set this time aside and make it fun. Turn on the radio, sing together, make them really enjoy it and not feel like it’s a chore. That way it becomes something they love doing and look forward to each week. Don’t be afraid to let them choose ingredients in the supermarket, even if they choose a single ingredient and you include it in a recipe you make together, it will give them a real sense of achievement! Always reward them for their effort by complimenting them on their achievement, never making them feel bad if something went wrong.
Do all this and when they are older, they will be confident cooks that eat well and have a balanced diet. In times like these where obesity is at an all time high, having healthy children is one of the greatest gifts of all.