Most children enjoy helping cook, or at least bake, from an early age. Baking tends to be what we parents start with letting them join in as they’re usually enthusiastic about eating cake. But children are often able to start cooking meals themselves, well before we might think they are. So why don’t we teach children to cook more regularly?
Mess and time are probably the two main reasons. Although safety can be another. Noone wants children to burn themselves or chop their finger tips off by accident. But it’s probably rare that these accidents happen, especially when we let children get comfortable around a kitchen from an early age.
N loves to eat. He likes a broad variety of food and is usually keen to try new things. He’s a lot more adventurous than I was as a child, and certainly eats more cuisines than the OH will. But in the past he’s not had much staying power at helping me bake or cook. He likes doing certain parts of the process, then he’ll leave, getting distracted by different things.
Last birthday he got given a kids cookbook (as requested), although it was a fail as 30+ pages were duplicates and missing pages (all the meat dishes). I’ve looked for another one but the reviews are never that great – either they’re too US recipe based, or black and white pictures, or not enough in them. So I need to leave it until we can go and browse in a book store again.
It’s never too young to start getting children interested in cooking, and they’re often able to help do more than just stir and spoon earlier than you might think.
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The first step and cooking experience
N’s first cooking effort alone was when we were camping when he was 8 years old. We just use a single ring gas stove and he decided he wanted to cook bacon one morning on his own. He managed that perfectly well, with me guiding him the next step from inside the tent while he cooked in the outside porch area. He made a good bacon butty. Since then, every time we have bacon, he wants to fry it – here and over at the farm.
He’ll also reheat up leftover sausages for a breakfast sandwich, and I’ll now just let him get on with it. Luckily we have the electric oven because he can’t lift the aga lids up high enough to open them. He’s since progressed to frying eggs so he can now do a fried breakfast, or breakfast for dinner and doing oven chips too.
When lockdown 3 started, N was keen to start cooking full meals. I’m not one to hold on to my having to cook every meal, so the next day we were having sausage and mash. A nice easy meal for him to cook. He oiled the right pan, popped the sausages in , then put them in the Aga. Peeled and boiled potatoes, mashing them with some butter. And microwaved the beans He pretty much knew what to do for all of it himself, although he does struggle with opening the Aga door because it’s both heavy and awkward to grab hold of when you’ve got an oven glove on.
Next steps I’ll need to get him using the normal oven too as that requires knowing the right temperature to use and preheating. With the Aga, you just shove it in and have a vague idea of how long it’ll take.
N has a few other dishes he wants to try, and then we’ll think about new recipes where he needs to follow a proper recipe. He’s already decided he wants a notebook like Granny’s where he can write down all the recipes he knows.
If you’ve got a child who wants to learn to cook, or who you think needs to learn in preparation for going off to uni/leaving home, here’s some easy recipes to start off their repertoire.
Easy recipes for kids to cook on their own
Toasted sandwiches – toasta bags are my go to, although we also use the George Foreman grill and he’ll toasties in the frying pan if needed. But toastabags* are the easiest (as long as you don’t have huge slices of bread that don’t fit in.
Bacon and eggs – simple in the frying pan for bacon or under the grill if you have one, they can degrease the bacon by laying it on a warm plate on kitchen towel and keep warm on a warm plate (we put ours in the bottom of the Aga). Eggs are a bit harder to break without breaking the yolk, but it’s good for children to learn timings. (Also scrambled eggs are a good starter too – although I’m lazy and teach N the microwave method).
Sausage and mash – they can grill or fry the sausages, but we just cook them in a tray with a bit of oil in the oven, turning halfway. Potatoes are easy to do but sometimes need a bit of strength to get the mashing started, and carrying a pan with water in.
Sausage plait or sausage rolls – we usually take sausagemeat out of the sausage skin, but you can just buy sausagemeat. Mix with a bit of breadcrumbs if you’ve got very high % meat sausages otherwise they can leak the fat out. We like a family size sausage plait, but you could also get them making smaller sausage rolls.. You can make pastry, but for starting out and to save time, they can just use ready made pastry of choice. Potato wedges are easy to make and serve alongside with a salad or baked beans.
Homemade pizza and garlic bread – N loves making garlic bread with baguettes and homemade garlic butter wrapped in foil to cook. There’s lots of options for making pizza, from an easy cheat’s Jamie Oliver recipe to more standard pizza bases. Or for younger children do lazy pizzas by using a variety of bases and getting them to top them.
Roast potatoes – a roast is fairly straightforward, but the timings are quite hard to get right. For children starting out cooking, start them with the component parts. N always tries to teach me about the right way to do roast spuds, you just need to watch out for the hot oil.
Chilli con carne or bolognese – mince is really versatile, and easy for children to cook. They can chop the veg to add, brown the mince (N loves defrosting mince in the pan at the same time), add the tomatoes and herbs or spices etc, then either let simmer or cover and put in the oven on low for a few hours. The rice or pasta are easy for them to cook too, and a staple useful to be able to cook when they leave home.
Stir fries – they can chop and add all the veg and/or meat they like.
Chicken goujons and potato wedges – this is great for teaching them about careful hygiene when cooking with chicken, making breadcrumbs from stale bread, choosing their seasoning for the coating, and getting the egg and crumb dipping order right. It’s an equivalent fast food meal that they can make at home. We just added peas (which bizarrely N wanted to know weather you put oil in the boiling water?! Not sure where that question came from)
All in one traybake cake – I love these, they’re so easy to make, and are pretty failsafe. I use the Mary Berry recipe and they’re really light and fluffy. And simple to add different flavours like lemon, lime or chocolate.
Flapjacks – great for showing them how cheaply homemade snacks or desserts can be made vs store bought. And they can easily be adapted to add fruit or chocolate chips, or different toppings.
Tiffin or rocky road – no cooking needed other than melting the chocolate (quickly done in the microwave, although helpful teaching them the bain marie method).
Cheesecake – individual ones are easy, but N was so chuffed at making a big cheesecake pretty much all on his own. We do baked cheesecakes normally, but no bake ones don’t always need gelatine which I find harder to get right. Alternatively a key lime pie with a biscuit base is a good one to get started with.
The biggest tip for teaching children to cook is letting them take the lead. Ask them what they want to make, get them to work out the ingredients and shop with you. And hopefully giving them the ownership will keep them interesting. Getting to serve the meal rather than clearing up the plates makes N’s day as well.
What kid friendly recipes did your children start with, when learning to cook?