The kitchen is the heart of the family home, so it’s no surprise that most kids make a beeline for it. Rather than shepherding them out, think about how you can turn their enthusiasm for the contents of your cupboards into play or learning activities.
Kids of all ages love cooking. Depending on what you make, you can teach your children valuable lessons about healthy food and encourage them to eat more vegetables. Hand-made pizzas can be turned into faces with cherry tomato noses and red pepper smiles; cookie cutters can be used on fruit and salad to make apple stars or heart shape cucumber slices. Older kids may also be interested in the science of food – for example when you whip eggs and sugar to make meringue.
Remember: be careful not to let the kids near anything sharp.
The story of food
Many children are fearful of food because they think they won’t like it. If you can blow those assumptions away, this will help your child to keep an open mind about food in the future. By showing them on the map where something grows or telling them the story of how it is brought to their plate, you engage their interest as well as give them a better geographic and environmental sense of the food we eat. For example, that seemingly ‘disgusting’ piece of mango becomes a tale about an exotic country; that beef burger they ate for lunch becomes a game of pairs – what else do cows provide?
The sounds of the kitchen
Pots, pans, wooden spoons… many babies would need nothing else to keep them amused! Add some more ‘instruments’ to the mix to get all the children interested: dried beans in a yoghurt pot (with a lid!), rice grains in a kitchen roll tube (again, tape the ends first!). Let the kids think of what might make a good noise, then help them build it. Once your kitchen band is complete, try and teach them to tap out a rhythm. This is fantastic noisy fun, but you are also teaching them about music and sound, as well as developing hand-eye coordination.
Make your own lunch
Kids like to copy you, so make lunch time an activity in itself and let them design and make their own meal. Sandwiches are a good place to start as you can slice up lots of different ingredients and let them build their own tower. Again, this encourages them to eat more fruit and vegetables (the lure of chopping something vs the fact they have to eat what they chop!), but it also teaches them how to use different kitchen tools and why some are more dangerous: the grater may not seem sharp, but it is designed for cutting.
Engage the senses
There are wealth of things that you can use in the kitchen to help your children engage their senses. Tell them to close their eyes and let them feel different food stuffs: flour, fruit, and bread. The same can be done with smell: oranges, mint, and cucumber. Their descriptions will engage their creativity and help with their literacy. Talk to them about how spices are used to flavour things and where the spices come from. Let them smell the different pots and even taste a few – e.g. toast with butter can become cinnamon toast; cumin in tomato soup can spice up their lunch. You can also encourage them to grow their own herbs in a pot. Basil, parsley and mint all grow well.
Remember: don’t get too close to spices – curry powder on fingers can easily get into eyes.
If you are feeling inspired to get creative in the kitchen with the little ones, why not take a look at the delicious recipes by Cooks and Kids, which combine the expertise of top chefs such as Rick Stein and Sophie Dahl with eager children’s creations. All royalties are donated to Place2Be charity.