Cooking with the help of small children may be an act of bravery but it’s also a gift. As your children grow into teenagers with hollow legs, facing a pantry of possibilities, they won’t need to resort to pre-packaged boxes, but will have the skills to stir, boil and sauté their way to healthier and tastier options.
We know that children need to maintain a balanced diet to grow up healthy and strong and meet the high energy needs of their growing bodies.
Involving them in the kitchen and having them handle foods, touch them, taste them and as they get older, learn to cook with them can be an adventure, a fun part of their play time and a great learning experience.
Hélène Hilton is a qualified Early Years and Primary teacher and has a Masters of Education in Children’s Literature. She is an editor at Dorling Kindersley (DK) and is behind production of their book Look I’m a Cook.
“I had only been working at DK for a couple of weeks, fresh from my teaching days, when we started talking about making a new series of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) books.
“As an Early Years teacher, I would teach science to four or five year olds through sensory play and cooking. Cooking is absolutely a science and an art, as well as being fun sensory exploration.
“As a team, we all agreed that children have an innate scientific curiosity so we set about creating books that nurtured and encouraged them to experiment, play, and learn.”
Celebrating the joy, love and fascination of food
Hélène says cooking is something to be celebrated.
“Healthy eating is such a huge issue internationally and many adults have a difficult relationship with food. But children need to know that food can be full of joy, love, and fascination.
“In Look I’m a Cook, we tried to use as many fresh ingredients as possible and the recipes are designed so that a child can follow most of the steps with minimal adult involvement. This means that the child can lead the cooking and be proud of what they have made.
“Throughout the book, we encourage the child and carer to ask questions about the ingredients and really pay attention and value them. Food is amazing and cooking fresh, delicious recipes can remind us of that.”
Parents often question whether they are putting their children on the path to success as fussy toddlers refuse random foods or inexplicably spend a week rejecting any food unless it is red. But by taking a deep breath and following some sensible guidelines our children will form healthy eating habits that set them up to continue making good, wholesome nutritious food choices.
Eating is a time for learning and exploring. When a baby first starts solids they are getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula so any refusal to eat is not important and you can easily try another time.
As children get older it is also normal for them to be fussy with food. It’s part of growing up. Children may eat more some days than others or take a while to try new foods. Try not to pressure them. Simply let them touch, smell or taste it and try again another time if they refuse. If they refuse a meal, you can re-offer it at the next meal or as a snack.
Children are usually fascinated by cooking so capturing their interest in the kitchen can help overcome their fussiness and provide opportunities to re-offer foods or to try new ones.
Children’s curiosity about cooking should be encouraged by letting them help out in the kitchen. Get them involved as much as you safely can and be patient when they get it wrong or make a mess. There’s no sensory fun without a little bit of mess.
They will learn so much and have fun doing it. Not to mention the huge sense of pride they will have in helping you create something.
“I remember kitchens having a special kind of magic when I was a child. A lot of recipes in the book came directly from things I remember making, and loving, as a child,” Hélène says.
“Even simple things, like freezing a small pot of yogurt with a spoon sticking out of it, turned it into a special treat over the summer holidays. It was so much more exciting that just getting ice cream out of the freezer because I had MADE it and I felt proud. That (very, very simple) recipe is in the book now.”