Kids in the kitchen: the sous chef

Categories: Expert guidance

In her latest series, Borough Market demonstration chef and author of Cool Kids Cook Jenny Chandler shares her tips on getting kids involved in the kitchen: this week, she talks about the joys and benefits of letting your children help out with the cooking

“Cooking is one of the most useful, rewarding and fun things that you’ll ever learn to do. Whether you hope to become a rocket scientist, play international football, breed ferrets or win the X Factor, one thing’s for sure, you will always have to eat. When you can make your own food the whole business of eating becomes much more exciting and enjoyable.” (Cool Kids Cook, by Jenny Chandler.)

Cool Kids Cook cover

Speaking to parents, there seem to be so many obstacles when it comes to getting children involved in the kitchen. You have to be in the kitchen yourself, for a start. Not all of us are natural-born Nigellas—or Nigels, for that matter—but if there’s one thing that’s likely to kickstart some back-to-scratch cooking it’s having a small child. We, quite rightly, tend to become more demanding and discerning about healthy, natural food when there are small mouths to feed and there’s no better way to take control than to buy simple, unadulterated ingredients and prepare them ourselves.

So why not take your kids on that journey with you? It’s really tempting to pop young Tommie in front of Peppa Pig for a few minutes (and don’t get me wrong, it can be the perfect solution at times) while you throw together some supper, but don’t forget he’s just as fascinated by what you’re up to.

Textures and sounds
As a baby, my daughter Imi used to sit in a funny little rubber chair on the worktop while I cooked and she wielded a wooden spoon around, bashed on saucepans or gnawed on a carrot. People spend a fortune on special sensory baby toys, but their kitchens are filled with textures and sounds—it’s just a question of keeping the knives and flames out of the picture.

Oh, but the mess! There’s no denying that an afternoon’s biscuit session with a couple of toddlers can leave you with a bomb site to clear up and, while setting aside a few hours to bake is a fun activity, most little ones seem to have lost interest after the first biscuit has been rolled and shaped. You’re left finishing the baking and clearing up, too—what happened there?

In my mind, there’s no need for cutesy chef hats and silicone spoons in lurid, child-friendly shades—it’s about including kids in day-to-day jobs; making them your ‘sous chef’. Quite simply, cracking eggs into a bowl for an omelette is a new experience. It’s a challenge—Imi (now aged 10) still loves to practice separating the yolks from the whites as she works. Then, with a little stirring and seasoning, they can stand by and watch that little miracle happen in the pan. Omelettes are one of those quick tricks that every teenager should have up their sleeve for a simple supper and yet, there are many adults who wouldn’t have a clue how to make one.

Learn by osmosis
Children who help around the kitchen just learn by osmosis. Whether it’s mashing vegetables, rolling meatballs or shaking a jar of dressing, just get them involved. It doesn’t have to be every day and we’re not talking Master Chef creations or themed dinner parties.

You’ll get the hang of what your child is capable of—they may start out by sprinkling the breadcrumbs on the top of the cottage pie, but then you can just wait for the day when they announce that they’re cooking supper. What an achievement, not just for them but on your part too—your child has begun to learn one of the most important, yet overlooked, life skills: how to cook.

Read Jenny’s child-friendly recipe for pumpkin ravioli