Cooking has been a life long journey for me. It all started at a young age, helping my mother with the cooking at home. I would help make Sunday breakfast every week, cooking bacon and eggs for the whole family under Mom's watchful eye. Not only did I enjoy the entire process but also, by helping cook the meal, I was freed from the post meal dishes! This early foundation fuelled my interest and inspired me to become a chef.
Whether or not your child goes on to become a chef, cooking with kids is extremely rewarding in many aspects. Here are a few facets I particularly like. Firstly, I find it an excellent way to spend time with my kids. Before long they will no doubt move on to other hobbies and interests, so some quality time together in the kitchen when they are young will be rewarding, be beneficial to them, and create lasting memories. To this day I can remember my father and I making and canning our annual batch of dill pickles; it's a treasured memory.
Secondly, regardless of how far your children take cooking, you are nevertheless teaching them life skills they will be able to draw on for the rest of their lives. You are helping develop their theoretical knowledge of cooking while helping them with their manual dexterity. Collectively this will help develop your child's level of organization and confidence.
Thirdly, having extra cooks in the house can be a huge help! Once they get a bit of experience, your kids will be able to help with a number of tasks, easing the amount of prep you have to do. Good luck getting them to help with the dishes though…….
I recommend starting around 3 or 4 years of age with fun, simple tasks. Stirring, mixing, scooping are good ways to start the ball rolling and spark their interest. Gradually move them to peeling, washing and assembling. These tasks may not be quite as fun as stirring chocolate chip cookie batter, but life isn't all about cookies. Next up will be using a knife; this is where you will have to be a little more cautious. However after a few nerve-wracking sessions, they will become comfortable with handling and cutting with a paring knife (start with soft fruits first, gradually moving to firmer vegetables). I really like showing them little tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years such as the proper way to julienne, how dice an onion quickly, or how to carve a simple decorative garnish like a tomato rose or a carrot flower.
If your child shows interest in the basics then you can move on to reading, organizing, and assembling recipes. Start with something like "Homemade Chocolate Chip Banana Bread" or "Pumpkin Spice Muffins". Recipes like these will involve measuring, mixing and baking, giving then a real sense of accomplishment in a matter of 2 hours. Your child will also be filled with a sense of pride upon completion. I like the fact that a batter goes through a transformation as it bakes into a well risen loaf. Recipes like this also involve getting your child familiar with mixers, baking equipment and using an oven. I recommend letting your child operate the various pieces of equipment (with plenty of instruction) as this will make the whole experience more interesting.
If they continue to show interest then I suggest graduating to dishes like homemade pizzas, desserts, baked macaroni, salsas and salad dressings. I like the fact that when preparing these items, your kids can see how store bought food can easily be made at home, with healthier ingredients, and for less money.
A great way to turn your kids into more adventuresome eaters is to cook with them. Not only will learning to cook offer kids a great way for them to express themselves, they'll enjoy embarking on what will hopefully be a lifelong journey of discovering how much fun it can be to prepare delicious, nutritious homemade food.