Thursday, 25 September 2014

Encouraging After School Chefs

So, we're well and truly back into the term-time madness.  No more are the endless summer days when we eat when we want, where we want, how we want.  It's time to try and get back into some sort of semblance of routine so that homework gets done, sleep gets had, swimming lessons get gotten too...

It's hard isn't it?  To try and settle back into a routine.  Kids are tired and grumpy after long days at school, they fall through the front door demanding food because they're hungry.  My daughter is now having school meals some days (thanks Mr Clegg) which means sometimes she doesn't want another cooked dinner at home, and I have the new quandary of trying to find her a healthy 'snack' tea which will fill her up right through to breakfast.

Getting her involved in preparing the meal I find cuts down on so much trauma. It allows her to unwind and spend some time with me. Actively doing another task, she's more likely to share what's happened during her day with me (rather than the monosyllabic answers I tend to get on the walk back). It gives her a break from school work rather than having to get stuck straight into homework. It stops the endless wails of "when's dinner, I'm staaaaaaarving?'.

But more importantly, being involved in cooking and preparing food is giving her life skills.  It's teaching her about ingredients, how to put them together, what cooking technique works best for what food, and it's preparing her for adulthood.

So here are my tips for nurturing little after school chefs:

1. Communicate.

Communication is the key.  Use every opportunity to talk about food, where it's come from, what it tastes like, what their favourites are and why.  Talk about food when you're at the shops - even from a very early age I'd chat to my daughter when she was in the pram, saying out loud each item as I put it in the basket.

Talk about how food is produced, how it grows, visit farms, see where eggs come from, how beans grow, what animals different meats come from.  An early understanding and appreciation of food will certainly pay off in the kitchen and at meal times.

If you have space, get your kids involved in growing some food.  It doesn't need to be a lot, even a window box of herbs is a good start.  Seeing the care and time that's needed to nurture something from seed to plate will help them appreciate the value of food.

Get them involved in planning the meal, talk about what they'd like to eat tonight.

Talk about what tastes they like and why.  It will help you to understand their palates and you can then introduce new foods with similar tastes or textures.

2. Help.

It's great to get kids involved helping at meal times.  Even very tiny children can help lay the cutlery on the table, mix and stir and help make basic recipes.  They can help with getting items out of the cupboard, fridge or freezer for you, and feel involved that way.

As your child gets older,  they will be able to do more and develop their independence.  The more they help you in the kitchen, the more they'll learn. I remember as a child, my jobs were always making the custard, the gravy and yorkshire pudding batter.

3. Experiment.

When it comes to food, sometimes kids can be wary of new things.  If I want to introduce a new addition to a meal, I'll try and first include it with other foods she's already familiar with, that way she's not overwhelmed with a plateful of strange food.  For example you might want to try sweet potato mash, so dish it with some more familiar peas.  Introducing a spicy salsa? Serve it with chicken dippers.

On the other hand, when Ruby is given free reign in the kitchen, her experimental side is more likely to come out.  She may dream up some weird and wonderful concoctions, but if she's been instrumental in making it she's much more likely to eat it.

Ruby loves to look through my recipe books, flicking the pages until she sees something that catches her eye. This is a great way to experiment with new meals, and you can work through the instructions step by step together.  It's also some sneaky, stealth reading practice!

This kind of experimenting is great for them to discover new tastes and learn their own personal likes and dislikes.

4. Fun.

If kids see cooking as a fun activity rather than a chore, they're much more likely to want to get involved.  I know it's hard, but try not to moan about having to cook the dinner AGAIN.  The negativity will rub off on them.

Most children love to cook.  Cracking eggs, whisking sauces and mixing salads is so much more interesting than slobbing out in front of the TV so let them get stuck in.

Let them help out with dishing up and serving the food too.  Ruby loves to present her food on the plate in different ways to how I would!

5. Skills.

Don't start with anything too complicated - your little chef  isn't going to be making perfect choux pastry straight away!  Starting with frozen food is a great introduction to cooking.  It will allow them to get great results, with not too much effort and build their confidence.  Reading and following instructions is a great skill to practice too.

It can be hard to resist the urge to be over-protective in the kitchen, after all it's full of inherent danger.  But with the right tuition and careful watching, you might be surprised at how much your child is capable of. Ruby loves to use the electric whisk, and will confidently hold the bowl with one hand and the beater in the other. I don't know why I didn't allow her to do it sooner.  She loves to stand on a chair at the stove stirring saucepans and even though it gives me grey hairs, she loves to chop up veg with a sharp knife.

These are all excellent skills to learn, and giving them that little bit of responsibility might just pleasantly surprise you.

Does your little one like to cook?  Do you have any tips you'd care to share?

This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Linky Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye. Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page.


  1. It's never to early to help provide them with the skills they will need for life, loving this inspiring post

  2. Wow, love this post and how much thought went into it. My girls do help with tea. It was just a little eyer and there to start with, but now my 12-year-old can cook us a meal!

  3. This is a great post, thanks for sharing.
    I also think that you can't beat fish finger sandwiches ;-)

  4. My two love getting in the kitchen with me - not every day (and I couldn't handle that either) but we do have regular cooking sessions. I agree it's a life skill and will continue to encourage it as it does promote healthy eating

  5. We've been showing Vee how to safely using the frying pan to cook mince on tuesday. It's a skill I want her to learn as I was never shown enough to cook safely when younger, that may explain the burn scars :)

  6. Lovely post Liz - my two love cooking and pretend they have a restaurant every now again although the menu is very limited ;-)

  7. I've taught my 3 to cook from scratch since they were 2 years old.I really must be doing something right though ,as my lot have had a hot meal at school for years and they still have a full hot dinner and pudding at home.

  8. Love this post, Liz. You put so much thought and effort into this and I completely agree with you. It's so important to get little ones involved in the whole cooking process from learning about food, growing your own (if possible) and helping to prepare meals. Amy loves it x

  9. Great post Liz, made me really think - you've put a lot of thought into it. Mine love baking, milkshake making, but I want to encourage them into cooking savoury stuff too, whole meals in fact!

  10. I enjoyed reading your post. Commenting for myself and on behalf of BritMums and thanking you for taking part