There are many benefits to be gained from letting your kids loose in the kitchen. Not only will they learn about nutrition and healthy eating habits, you will ALL learn some key life skills and create wonderful family moments in the process.

 

Recently I posted on social media about a new day I’d discovered – Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day. It never ceases to amaze me the National days we mark here in the UK. My post explained how I’d ‘made’ my kids cook when they were little (they’re both grown up now). My motivation was for them to learn the key skills of cooking, be independent and confident, and develop a love for good home cooking – which I think they sort of did. As adults, they both love cooking from scratch. The best part for me though, was the time I got to spend with them. It became real quality time; a time we could chat and share our thoughts with each other. I learnt more about their world and challenges in those moments than I did in the “Tell me how your day was” moments. As a busy Mum working full-time these became special moments that I treasured.  

 

Now, sitting back and reflecting on these moments I realise there were some key life skills that we all learnt. Skills that I still utilise and are important in both my business and personal life. And so, I’d like to share some of the things I learnt from getting our children involved with cooking from an early age.

 

START SMALL, START EARLY

Start them young, teach them skills and build their confidence. Help them not be afraid of chopping, so they don’t have a fear of the knife. Let them know they can control it. Show them how to use gas safely, and teach them how to manage situations, for example, if they’ve got a kitchen towel burning next to the gas burner. Yes… we had one of those moments as well!

 

Our children started helping me in the kitchen when they were very young. Initially it was just messing around, touching and feeling the different textures of grains, rice, vegetable etc. Then they got to know different vegetables and watched whilst I cleaned and prepped them This time was important as they learnt about basic food hygiene and preparation, nutrition and healthy eating habits – the start of a battle against the very serious health issues facing many youngsters today. 

 

BE PATIENT 

Be patient with them and be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn and teach new skills. Break it down into easy steps for them. Make it fun. I remember we had fun using different tools to cut carrots into wheels, logs and boxes. We gave our vegetables different names and at times we danced around the kitchen doing it. Ahh, karaoke in the kitchen with our wooden spoon microphones, air guitar and drums ….. such lovely memories!

 

BUILD UP IN STAGES

Once they start to know how to prepare food, and they’re beginning to feel safe and confident, get them to part prepare something with you. Then gradually support and guide them till they can prepare a whole dish with you there as sous chef. When they’re comfortable and confident, get them to do it all. You’ll still be there, keeping a watchful eye, but not saying a word. This gives them that bit of security and sense of achievement. For those who are ready to fly they’ll tell you “I want to do this by myself; please go out of the kitchen”. And if you know they are ready, but they are still a little apprehensive to take the leap, you could say “I’m gonna leave you because I know you can cook this dish. You’ve got this. Shout if you need me”. The amount of confidence boosting this does is amazing. And I think as a confidence boosting tool, it’s one to use with your children at home. When they know they can do something new, they become more open to learn other new things and explore.

 

TEAM WORKING

As they get older, make cooking and working in the kitchen part of team working in your home. Let them know that the whole family depends on them to prepare that meal or to wash the dishes. Tell them how much you appreciate their effort. Be around, in case they need your help, but don’t fall for the ‘I don’t know what to do’ talk. Telling them you want to watch how they do it, so you can learn from them usually gets them going – teaching the parent how to do something…… how cool is that!

 

As they became teenagers, we got the children to cook Sunday dinner. Initially it was for a totally selfish reason. I was a bit fed up with being the main Sunday dinner chef. We all loved food and I knew we were all capable of cooking. I also wanted the kids to take full responsibility. So, the mandate I gave them was ‘You choose whatever you want us to eat but try to make it as healthy as possible. Pop on the weekly shopping list what you need, and I will get it.’ They had to decide in advance what they were going to cook, find a suitable recipe, check what items we had in the house, and then add whatever was needed onto the shopping list. If they forgot to do that, they had to either walk down to the shop themselves or twist their Dad around their little finger (which they did successfully on quite a few occasions) to take them to the shops. This was a great way of learning to respect other people’ s time and developing negotiating skills. They experienced what it took to get a dish on the table and how things could easily go wrong. And they learnt how to follow a recipe and be able to adjust it to their taste, a skill they both testify came in handy when they were in university.

 

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Once you’ve given them the responsibility to cook, give them the authority to cook what they want to cook for the family, the way they want to cook it. If you’ve taught them the basic skills from the start, they’re not going to go far wrong. 

 

BE PREPARED TO BE ‘WOW’ED

Be prepared to taste different types of dishes. Remember, it may not taste the way you cook yours, but give them credit for the work they’ve done. Also give them constructive feedback in a loving way. There’s nothing more soul destroying than harsh comments from parents, such as “I could have done this quicker / better for heaven’s sake!” That is confidence destroying. 

 

We always gave our children feedback. It was always interesting, because you get the one that never thinks what they’ve cooked is great and you get the one that thinks it’s always great. But we were always very, very, mmm….what’s the word I should use …. gracious about feedback. Gracious and true.

 

TEACH THEM TO TIDY UP

Teach them that cooking is not just about putting the dish on the table. The role of the cook is to cook the food and wash the stuff they cooked with. This instils in them the importance and discipline of completing tasks, integrity and taking ownership of what they do. Our house rule was if you were the chef you made sure that your cooking utensils were washed before we started to eat, but you did not wash up after dinner. Whoever cooks doesn’t wash up afterwards. That’s the rule. The unexpected benefit of this was that they then volunteered to cook on some occasions, just so they did not have to wash up.

 

ENJOY THE JOURNEY

And last, but not least, when you give your children time to cook in the kitchen, you’ll all learn and grow from it. As a mother, it was a lot of learning for me. I learnt to let go of them doing things exactly the way I wanted them to do it; to give them the responsibility and also the authority. I had to learn not to interfere and suggest “Oh, put this…..or put that in….”, except when I was asked for advice. By doing that, what I actually found was that by stepping back and letting them loose, it empowered them. And when it turned out the way they had planned, the look of sheer joy and achievement on their faces was priceless. So, give them space and enjoy the journey!

 

We all want a world full of people who are leaders in their own right. A world where each person is confident and comfortable to be who they can be, and the kitchen is a great place to start. I know it may sound far-fetched but think of it. Cooking relates to food; food is a universal language and what a fab way of learning to express yourself and taking ownership and leadership of yourself. Cooking is also a means of communication and building relationships. There are so many people that I got to know better over a meal, talking about cooking, sharing our skills and tips or learning from each other. So, keep an open mind. Share with your children the skills that you have, and maybe even that special family recipe. 

 

And for those parents who maybe don’t love cooking or don’t know how to cook, it’s never too late to start. There are so many short courses you can go on, so many cooking videos you can watch; YouTube is loaded with them. Get a simple recipe book, start small and give it a try. There are lots of gadgets that can help you chop and cut, but I actually still love doing these things by hand. I find it therapeutic and it’s also an expression of love. 

 

I do hope you enjoy the journey of cooking, and I hope you will take the courage to let your children take over the kitchen. You may well be surprised at the delicacies they’re going to tempt your taste buds with.