Cooking is an amazing, fun and tasty activity that all of the family can join in with. Experts believe that by getting children cooking at an early age we can engage them and help stem rising levels of obesity amongst the young. It is true that every year in the UK over 67,000 children have serious accidents in our kitchens, the majority of these are due to their unfamiliarity with the rules of the room. By introducing children to cooking at a young age we can help them be healthier and safer.
The Right Activities At The Right Age
Patience and appropriateness are the name of the game when it comes to involving children in the kitchen. It is vital to take your time and pick the right activities for them that are suitable for their abilities. This way you will keep their interest and stay safe.
Toddlers And Young Children
Few toddlers would be able to plan a complex meal and cook it. In fact few toddlers can make the cognitive connections necessary to put together the cause and effects necessary to stay safe in the kitchen alone. What a toddler can do very well is press buttons and make a mess. It is important to start with the basics:
- Always wash your hands properly before handling food
- Never touch the top of the cooker or the oven door
- Never use a blender with the lid off
- Don’t touch the sharp part of knives
- Don’t put your hand in a blender
- Wet hands and electricity don’t mix
- Never climb on the cooker or other household machines
By repeatedly working on very basic rules in a fun framework you can instill good practice early. Later you can take the time to explain the hazards but by building in the behaviour at a young age they are more likely to stick. If you get your children involved for a portion of the cooking they will have fun, learn skills and gain an interest. Young children can use scales, add ingredients, turn on a blender and help with the mixing.
Older Children – The Tweens
Tweens are those kids who fall between toddler and teen (‘tweens). This is quite a wide age range where their intellectual abilities and skills can change rapidly. This is, perhaps, the most important age group of all. At the start of the Tweens, children are only just beyond being toddlers but by the end they are virtually young adults; throughout this period, however, they are engaged, excited and malleable. If you fail to engage a Tween with cooking then it will be an uphill battle during their teenage years. Start with simple tasks that introduce a little element of danger and then work up gradually to cooking meals:
- Stirring a pot
- Dicing – initially with a hand over theirs but later alone under careful supervision
- Tin opening
This can then be taken up a notch:
- Meal planning
- Helping with shopping
- Chopping with a chef’s knife
- Stir frying
- Serving up and garnishing
It is important in this period to gradually give them a sense of control and ownership. The hardest part is allowing experimentation whilst still trying to get across standard techniques. It is best to give them a portfolio of cooking skills and techniques to call on before letting them play.
Teenagers And Young Adults
It is a sad fact that many young adults don’t even know how to boil an egg let alone actually cook a meal safely. Mary Berry has a list of basic meals that all teenagers should be able to prepare and it is hardly complex. Teenagers are the hardest to engage with anything and yet they are quickly reaching an age where they will have to fend for themselves:
- Use of slow cookers, fryers and pressure cookers (being mindful of potential hazards with the latter)
- Preparing basic meals alone using standard techniques
- Chopping, paring and deboning
- Being allowed to experiment and fail at cooking
- Being allowed to cook their own meals and being given a budget to follow for these.
- Being given their own equipment to use and care for.
By gradually allowing more and more independence in the kitchen you children can be taught to be safe, respect food and eat healthily. It is vital to start with the basics at the right age and gradually relax rules or give more explanation as they children develop. Most important of all children should be allowed to have fun safely and learn to respect and enjoy the kitchen equally.
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