Traditionally family recipes would be passed down in the kitchen, with generations cooking together, but as lifestyles have got busier finding time to teach some of these basic life skills has diminished. It undoubtedly requires extra time to prepare and cook with children and childcare settings can provide a great forum for this education and can also encourage and support parents. Involving children in the kitchen also enables early years settings to deliver numerous areas of the Statutory Framework, ensuring every child has the best possible start in life and enabling them to reach their full potential.
The benefits of engaging children in the kitchen are far-reaching and have the potential to interest them and equip them with valuable skills, which can affect their future health and well-being. The fundamental advantage is engaging them with real and healthy food that they may not otherwise be exposed to or consider trying. Simply working with children to cut up and prepare vegetables and fruit provides an opportunity to talk about the benefits of different foods and the role of different nutrients in the body. Even on a simplistic level, you can talk about red foods like strawberries and tomatoes being beneficial for our hearts and green foods like celery and cucumber being good for a healthy brain, bones and teeth. Promoting the importance of the foods we consume and their health benefits focuses on the ‘Physical Development’ goal of the curriculum and initiates children’s understanding about the importance of a healthy diet, all within an active learning approach.
Prepping and cooking food as a group is an ideal opportunity for team work and self-confidence building. Working with others to prepare food and then serve and eat it can provide a huge boost and achievement. One example of this can be seen when making something like frittatas with young children. If they cut up and prepare the vegetables, grate the cheese and whisk the eggs, the pre-cooked result is quite different to the finished product. There never fails to be an “OOOhh” when the cooked food comes out of the oven and, if children have prepared the food themselves, the likelihood of them trying it is greatly increased. The change in materials from raw to cooked egg or raw batter to pancakes also links well with their understanding of the world, enabling children to make observations.
Speaking and listening is integral to cooking time and an opportunity to introduce language about food. Cooking can also be introduced through stories and songs, which can heighten engagement and interest and provide purpose. One example could be to prepare and make porridge with an exciting topping linked to Goldilocks and The Three Bears. The genre of recipes can also be observed and discussed and the maths of counting, measuring and estimating can be incorporated.
Some basic cookery skills, which are ideal for young children, include:
- Scrubbing vegetables, e.g. carrots, potatoes
- Washing fruit and vegetables in a colander, e.g. strawberries, grapes, mushrooms
- Mixing food, e.g. egg mix, cake mix
- Cutting food with scissors, e.g. apricots, dates, herbs
- Using measuring spoons and cups, e.g. oil, herbs, flour
- Counting out ingredients, e.g. raisons, apricots
- Tearing food, e.g. herbs, lettuce
- Crumbling food, e.g. feta cheese
- Arranging toppings, e.g. porridge, pizza
- Spreading with the back of a spoon, e.g. tomato on pizza
- Scooping, e.g. jacket potato
- Rolling, e.g. pastry
- Cutting with a biscuit cutter, e.g. sandwiches
- Mashing food, e.g. potato, chick peas
Some simple recipes, which are ideal for young children, include:
- Simple fish (tuna/mackerel) dip adding yogurt/sour cream and herbs
- Fruit or vegetable kebabs, which involve washing and preparing the fruit/vegetables and then threading onto sticks.
- Bean dips, which involve mashing beans such as cannellini/chickpeas and adding yoghurt and olive oil to flavour.
- Finger sandwiches, which involve spreading butter and adding a filling. Children, with help, can use biscuit cutters to cut out.
- Simple bean salads mixing different beans together and adding olive oil and herbs.
When early years settings engage children in the kitchen, it also provides an ideal opportunity to partner closely with parents. Educating them about basic skills that can be reinforced at home and also encouraging parents to demonstrate and talk about their family recipes and traditions help children to identify the similarities and differences between families. The benefits of involving children in the kitchen can be far-reaching and its place in early years settings should not be underestimated.
About the author
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years. Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. Katharine also presents The Food Teacher show on UK Health Radio where she discusses the importance of food for health and wellbeing.
She has published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and the award-winning ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’. Look out for The Food Teacher at Food Festivals and events throughout the country during 2016.