Cooking is a life skill everyone must learn. The only question is: at what point in life should that learning start? And the answer is: early! Why not introduce your children to the kitchen from right now?
Cooking with your little one can give you a lot of opportunities for teaching. For a relatively younger child, you can bring basic math alive! Let your little one count slices of apples, divide a pie into X number of sections, or fetch you Y number of potatoes from the household pantry.
Meanwhile, it is a chance to make your child well-versed in names of vegetables and other food items, all done as part of the fun and games. Introduce various spices and other ingredients, and talk about where they come from and the hardworking farmers who produce them.
The more you chat with your child throughout the process, the more s/he will learn. So, get your child involved as much as possible, such as plucking herbs from your herb garden and showing him/her the various parts of a fruit or plant.
Moreover, try to instil healthy dietary ideas in your child's mind. Talk about healthy eating choices, such as the value of eating greens.
And apart from all that, cooking can also become a lifelong hobby for your children. Introduce them to it, and after they have grown up, they'll thank you for it!
Don't get any fancy ideas, though. Cooking with children can be very stressful!
The little brat will make a mess. And if you think your child will quickly become a helping hand, think again! Your child will cook up ways of getting on your nerves, and surely, you will get slightly paranoid about safety issues:
"Is he maintaining a safe distance from fire? Oh wait, he just turned up the heat and now the curry has overflowed. Where did he get that knife and what's he doing with it? How did he break a dozen eggs so fast!" And won't bother to clean up, either.
These are just some of the thoughts that will constantly race in your mind.
It's a good idea to set out some ground rules — 'wash your hands first,' 'don't get too close to the fire,' 'ask before you taste' and so on. And then, police him (read supervise). Even relatively older children need supervision in the kitchen.
There isn't a magic number as to the 'right' age to start out in the kitchen, but you can get your child involved fairly early. Even a 5-year old can help in making dough, fetching small vegetables from the pantry, or sprinkling sugar — but under supervision, obviously, and with knives and other potentially hazardous objects out of reach.
On the other hand, a 10-year old can follow simple and easy recipes — again, with your help and supervision.
At the end of the day, it is you as a parent who can be the best judge of what to allow and where to draw the line, based on your child's learning ability, maturity, etc.
Tasks for your sous chef
And so, set tasks accordingly. Assign them with whisking eggs. Or give them the duty of spreading jam and butter on bread. Let them slice bananas or other soft food — first with a strong plastic knife, then with a butter knife, and then, when you feel they are ready, with a small kitchen knife. Teach them how to peel boiled eggs or potatoes with a peeler; and eventually how to mix stuff and use salad dressings to make a salad.
And gradually, start with cooking, only for much older children (a lot depends on maturity, which varies from person to person) — after you are sure s/he is aware about handling stoves and small knives.
Go for recipes of foods they love eating. Simple baking, different kinds of omelette (they'll still break and destroy a few eggs in the process), mac and cheese, and the simple pasta or noodles are just few examples of the things your children will enjoy making.
It's important to give your child a true sense of participation, and one way of doing it — if they are relatively older — is allowing to take full responsibility of a particular item in the menu; something which requires minimum supervision from your side.
One good example of such a task is making lemonade or milkshake. The children (and adults) love them, and older children can pull it off more or less independently, after you have showed them the simple recipe and how to use the blender.
Welcome your sous chef to the kitchen with gusto! Celebrate the little one's first day at the kitchen with the whole family, where everyone participates, from cutting vegetables to setting up the table.
After all, there are not many things like cooking and eating together that bring a family close!
Photo: LS Archive/ Sazzad Ibne Sayed