Cooking is a whole lot of fun. It’s creative, it’s stimulating, you learn loads of cool things AND you end up with something delicious at the end! When you think about it, it’s pretty magical.
We’ve been cooking with young chefs for a good few years now. Here are our top tips to make the absolute most out of the experience and encourage even the most reticent of chefs to get stuck right in!
1. Make A Mess
Getting a little bit messy is a natural (and unavoidable!) part of cooking, and one not to shy away from. Whether we’re mixing, pouring, sieving, grating or chopping, there’s ample opportunity to make a bit of mess. But, as we always say to our young chefs, mess is ok!
Before starting cooking, we always make sure our hands are washed, work surfaces are clean, valuable objects are cleared away and our clothes are protected with an apron. But then, it’s time to get stuck in! Cooking is a hugely stimulating activity and a pressure-free environment aids creativity. We often have children asking permission to run their fingers through the soft, silky flour in their bowl. The answer? YES, that’s exactly why we wash our hands! Touching, smelling and tasting ingredients are a wonderful way to engage with cooking and give children a personal connection to what they are making.
Cooking also requires some pretty advanced motor skills, so we expect there to be a couple of broken eggs and some spilt milk along the way. It happens, but if it's an accident we never dwell on it. We bring plenty of back up ingredients just in case!
And just as getting messy is a big part of cooking, so is CLEARING UP! We always finish our bakes with everybody cleaning their own workspaces, and find the enthusiasm for plunging their hands into a sink full of bubbles is just as high as touching the silky soft flour.
2. Try New Things
Something we hear from time to time when introducing ingredients is “but I don’t like that!”. In response, we ask “Ok, have you tried it?”. More often than not, the answer is no. And that’s fine, trying new things can be really intimidating - especially if they look or smell a bit funny (olives, we’re looking at you!). But trying new things is a big part of cooking, and although we’d never force a child to eat something they didn’t want to, we will always encourage them to at least give it a go.
And we all have things we don’t like to eat, that’s perfectly normal (you won't catch us eating celery any time soon!). If a child tries something but still doesn’t like it, well, that’s absolutely fine! In fact, we'll congratulate them for being brave enough to give something new a go.
We try to emphasise the sharing nature of cooking. Don’t like peppers? That’s fine, but maybe your brother/sister/Mum/Dad/Gran/Grandad does and I bet they would LOVE to try this wonderful dish you’ve made! Even without prompting, most of our chefs are ready to tell us EXACTLY who they’re going to gift their delicious dishes to.
3. Get Friends Involved
Cooking is a fun activity for friends. They can share ideas, share opinions, share tasks. And sometimes cooking with a friend is just downright useful, like when measuring for example - one to pour the ingredients, one to watch the scales! Whether it’s a weekend or activity or birthday party idea, cooking with friends is a fun-filled activity that is stimulating, creative, and pretty educational too (just be ready for that aforementioned mess!).
4. Encourage Individuality
While cooking and baking is a whole lot of fun, as with anything, it can come with certain anxieties too. A question we get asked a lot at our workshops is “does this look right?”. Constant encouragement and guidance is a healthy way to take the pressure away of getting it ‘wrong’, and we are quick to say that just because something looks different, doesn’t mean it’s not good! Sometimes your mix can look completely different from your friend’s, but that doesn’t mean that either is bad!
Individuality is a wonderful thing, and lots of factors can make a recipe look slightly different from someone else’s. Celebrate the individuality of your own recipe - after all, YOU made it!
5. Mistakes Happen
Of course, occasionally things just don’t work. We as adults know that you can do all the right things in the right order, but it just doesn’t turn out quite right. Experimentation is a big part of cooking and as chefs, we are all constantly learning. Mistakes happen, but we can learn from them and make what we do next even better!
Plus, we’ve found that with a bit of creativity a mid-recipe mistake can pretty much always be saved. When it doubt, just add flour and keep stirring!
Ah, decorating! A brilliant way to encourage creativity, individuality and autonomy. Even if your child isn’t hugely into cooking, decorating can be a brilliant way to introduce them to food. We always like to theme our recipes, and decorating is the perfect opportunity for young chefs to use their imaginations and make their very own designs. Cakes are the obvious choice for decorating, but you can also cut your biscuits into special shapes, arrange your veggies in a particular pattern or (this is one of our favourites) decorate your own takeaway boxes to keep the food in!
7. Games and Activities
And finally, foodie fun needn’t be just for the kitchen. We have a whole host of foodie games and activities which we like to play during break times which build confidence, aid learning, and generally get everybody VERY excited to get to the kitchen. We always like to start off with our ‘Stir Krazy names’. These are our names, but preceded by a food starting with the same letter e.g. Avocado Amy, Jelly Jenny, Olive Oliver. If we ever have trouble thinking of a food there are always plenty of suggestions from the other chefs, and sometime we accompany our names with a special movement too! What would your Stir Krazy name be?
Why not try and new recipe this weekend? BBC Good Food has lots of brilliant ideas for young chefs. Let us know how you get on!