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Teach your children basic cooking skills

Teach your children basic cooking skills
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How to cook is one of the best life-skills we can pass onto our kids. As they grow into adults it will help them understand the importance of nutrition, and gives them the tools to make healthy diet choices. It’s never too early to teach your children basic cooking skills – ease them in gently and before you know it they will be serving you gourmet delights while you put your feet up. The cooking activities you choose will depend on your child’s age – here are a few guidelines to get you started:

Toddlers

Safety is always important in the kitchen, but since toddlers have no common sense you need to be super-vigilant when cooking with them. Keep hot foods, pan handles, sharp utensils and cleaning products well away from tiny grabbing hands, and clear the floor of any trip-hazards that your toddler may have ‘helpfully’ placed in your way.

Toddlers love to help, so spark their interest by giving them big-boy/girl tasks to do, like:

• Washing veggies – a perfect opportunity to name foods and talk shapes and colours

• Peeling mushrooms – this mushrooms may end up massacred, but you were going to chop them anyway, right?

• Mashing – destruction is one of your toddler’s strengths, so use it to your advantage

• Spooning – flour, sugar, rice and pasta can all be easily weighed, and your toddler will love to spoon them out of the pack

• Adding – as long as it’s not hot, and unlikely to splash up, toddlers can be very adept at adding ingredients to a dish. Just don’t turn your back while they have access to the pepper pot …

Preschoolers

The sense-chip has been activated in most preschoolers, at least some of the time. This means that when the mood is right (and you’ll soon know if it’s not!) they can be trusted with tasks that are slightly more challenging. Their ability to follow instructions and their improved motor control and dexterity can be brought into play to great effect too.

Preschoolers often imagine their skills are more developed than they really are, so keep a close eye on proceedings and be ready to help out when necessary to avoid damaging their confidence.

Try these ideas:

• Weighing and measuring – they won’t understand the scales yet, but this is a good time to introduce the idea

• Sieving – can be calamitous, but if you don’t mind a bit of mess to begin with they will very quickly learn about cause (shaking too vigorously) and effect (scattering everywhere but in the bowl)

• Squashing and tearing – smashing and squishing fruit is very satisfying for preschoolers, as it makes a nice mess, and tearing lettuce leaves and herbs allows them to indulge their latent toddler need to destroy things, in a constructive way

• Rolling and cutting – making pastry or biscuit dough is simple and fun, and shape cutters give your preschooler a real sense of achievement

• Mixing – watching your preschooler mix or stir something will make even the most spatially challenged parent realise how dextrous they are themselves. All I will say is this – choose a deep bowl or jug, and embrace the resulting splatter pattern as an art form

• Cutting – a plastic knife is great for cutting soft fruits, butter and mushrooms, and will make your child feel all grown up

5-7 Year Olds

Teach your children basic cooking skillsHave your box of plasters at the ready, because this is the age of knives, scissors, and all things sharp. Eeek! I know I may get shouted down for this, but I’m a great believer that kids should be allowed to use proper knives and scissors at this age provided they are remotely responsible.

If you only ever give them a safety knife they will never truly appreciate the dangers. My six year old was chopping carrots for me the other day. We’d had the conversation about how and where to position hands. She was being uber-careful. Then she got distracted. And the knife slipped. And she got a little cut. She didn’t lose a limb.

Oh, and I let her use the electric whisk too. Under my watchful eye at all times. Little brother had a hold of it too. He’s three. Bear Grylls eat your heart out. Let’s go and toast some marshmallows on the fire …

Here are some cooking skills for 5-7 year olds to try:

• Greasing a cake tin or baking tray – I find this interminably dull – they love it

• Cracking and egg – yes, it’s messy

• Beating and folding – quite an art, but an ideal way to teach youngsters fine hand control

• Laying the table – my girl loves doing this – I’m enjoying it while it lasts

• Peeling things – veggies, apples, hard-boiled eggs, oranges

• Grating – you need to make sure slices of finger don’t end up in your meal, so encourage them to stop before whatever they are grating gets too small

• Rubbing in – butter and flour – try making simple scones, or pastry – easy, messy, and loads of fun

Older Kids

As your wee ones grow into bigger children they become capable of taking more responsibility in the kitchen. Planning, finding ingredients, weighing and measuring and the use of heat can all be introduced for kids over eight, with supervision as you deem necessary depending on the maturity of your child. Keep the dialogue going about safety at all ages, and by the time your kids reach ten or older the messages will really begin to take hold and responsible cooking will soon become second nature.

From the age of twelve-fourteen or so, it is generally okay to let your child loose (relatively speaking) in the kitchen, provided you are on hand to help with heavy or very hot pans and foods, and electric gadgets. Encourage them to be creative and try new things. Go shopping with them and help them choose ingredients for their cooking projects. You are giving them a fantastic start in life that will hopefully see them develop into adults that are informed about and interested in what they put in their mouths. What obesity problem?

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About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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