The thought of unleashing young children into the kitchen may fill you with dread but they can learn so much from cooking and baking simple meals. Introducing them to food and cooking at a young age stimulates an interest in food, tastes and healthy eating and learning to cook is a skill that will prepare them for life.
Taking an active role in choosing, preparing and cooking meals can also help children eat a wider variety of foods. Involve your child in every step from what to make to cleaning up afterwards, and most importantly, have fun!
It will get messy! As you will know many things you do with young children get messy and cooking is no exception. They will spill things and make a mess. Be prepared for this by wearing aprons or old clothes and having cloths handy for wiping up spills.
Children have short attention spans so give them quick simple tasks and give instructions one at a time. Give yourself plenty of time to cook so that you can explore ingredients and equipment through the process and your child can do as many of the tasks as possible without you rushing them.
Hygiene and Safety
The kitchen can be a hazardous place, particularly for young children, so keep safety in mind at all times. Some top kitchen safety tips:
- Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly before cooking
- Have everything you need to hand so you do not need to leave a child unsupervised
- Be aware of hot ovens, hobs and food – explain the dangers to children and do not let them near without supervision. Explain why we use oven gloves to take things out of the oven but emphasise that this is an adult job.
- Set up a safe place where they can work with you, preferably at a suitable height.
- Do not taste raw meat or raw eggs
- Explain the dangers of using knives – any cutting requiring a sharp knife should be done by an adult. You can ask your child to help cut soft foods with a blunt knife.
- Teach your child about using kitchen utensils and other equipment safely
- Never leave children unattended when cooking
Cooking is a great way to introduce simple maths to young children. Weighing and measuring, counting, volume, shape and size can all be covered when making a simple recipe. Vocabulary such as ‘more than’ and ‘less than’ can be explored when weighing ingredients.
Use different shaped cutters to make biscuits so children can learn the names of shapes. Sequencing can be demonstrated through following a recipe step-by-step and doing things in the right order. You can also introduce the concept of time when explaining how long things take to cook.
Science plays a big part in cooking. It’s a great way to show how materials change during mixing and cooking – chocolate will melt when heated, sugar will dissolve in hot water, liquid cake mix will become solid when cooked.
Concepts such as mixing, baking, temperature (hot/cold), freezing, melting, dissolving, floating and sinking can all be demonstrated. Cooking also gives an opportunity to talk about where food comes from and how and where things grow. You can also talk about a balanced diet and healthy eating – which foods give energy and which help you grow strong.
Language and Literacy
There are many ways to improve literacy skills through cooking. Explain to your child that you need to find a recipe and then how important it is to follow the instructions. It is also important for them to listen to instructions. They will learn new words, names of ingredients and equipment in the kitchen. Try looking for words in the recipe and then looking for words on packets, e.g. eggs, flour, or vice versa. Look for things beginning with the same sounds, e.g. sugar, spoon, salt.
Co-ordination and Fine Motor Skills
Many of the physical skills needed when cooking help strengthen little hands. Tasks such as holding a spoon, mixing, stirring, rolling, kneading, pouring, chopping, peeling and whisking all help develop fine motor skills and co-ordination.
Let your child do as many tasks as possible (obviously excluding ones where safety is an issue, such as using sharp knives). All five of our senses are stimulated when cooking – smell, taste, touch, sound and sight – so let your child explore ingredients and utensils to help improve their senses.
Emotional and Social Development
Cooking can be a social activity, especially if children take part with a friend of sibling. Children will learn to share, take turns and enjoy an activity together. Plus, don’t forget the best part – sitting down together and eating what you have made!
What to Cook
This might depend on your level of cooking experience but start with quick, simple dishes with steps that they can easily help with. Most little ones have a short attention span so starting with a four course banquet might just put them off slightly! Talk to your child and agree together what to make. Here are some simple recipe ideas to help you get cooking:
This quick fun snack uses bread as the base for a pizza. It involves little cooking but children can have fun choosing their own toppings and designing their own pizzas.
- Sliced bread
- Tomato puree
- Grated cheese
- Assorted toppings e.g. chopped mushrooms, peppers or onions; sliced pepperoni, salami or ham etc.
- Toast one side on the bread under the grill
- On the untoasted side spread a thin layer of tomato puree
- Add grated cheese to cover the bread
- Add toppings of your choice
- Toast under grill until cheese melted and toppings browned
Top Tip: try using crumpets or baguettes instead of sliced bread.
Chocolate Crispy Cakes
Easy to make treats which taste delicious. You can add sweets or marshmallows on top and children can have fun decorating the cakes before setting.
- 100g chocolate
- 50g butter (chopped into small cubes)
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 100g cornflakes or rice crispies
- Sweets/marshmallows to decorate (optional)
- Melt the chocolate, either in a microwave or in a bowl over a pan of hot water (be careful not to get any water into the chocolate
- Add the butter and syrup and stir to combine
- Gradually add the cereal until each grain/flake is well covered with chocolate
- Spoon into paper cases, decorate (optional) and leave to set
Top Tip: you can use broken up shredded wheat and top with mini chocolate eggs to make Easter nests.
If children do not want to be let loose in a real kitchen we offer a wide range of play kitchens which are ideal for school and nursery home corners and encourage imaginative play. We sell individual kitchen appliances including play cookers, play sinks, play washing machines and play fridges. We also offer sets of kitchen appliances to create a complete play kitchen. Browse our full range of home corner school play equipment.
At Early Learning Furniture we are experts in furniture, resources and equipment for early years’ education. To find out more about us and our products please call us on 01733 511121 or contact us.