I recently started watching Chef’s Table. In the first episode, superstar chef Massimo Bottura reminisces about his childhood under the kitchen table as flour fell from his grandmother’s rolling pin as she churned out pasta.
This experience of being around foodmaking as a child was clearly so formative for him that he based his whole life on it, becoming one of the world’s best chefs in the process.
Cooking As A Part Of Family Life In The Kitchen
It got me thinking about the differences between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, where the kitchen and food form a huge part of family life, compared with Northern European/North American culture, in which children only see the food once the oven is off, and even then families may not eat together at all. Of course that lifestyle does, in part, rely on having a lot of adults (traditionally, women), around, in the kitchen all the time, to supervise.
Of course that lifestyle does, in part, rely on having a lot of adults (traditionally, women), around, in the kitchen all the time, to supervise.
This separation was impossible for me, bringing my sons up in a tiny apartment in Amsterdam. The kitchen was by far the largest and most inviting room in the house. This meant they were always in the kitchen to some extent, but when my eldest, Eli, came along, I used to try everything I could to keep him away from me while I cooked (as cooking allowed me to feel a semblance to my former, non-mom self).
Kids Will Love Family Life In The Kitchen
But, eventually, I gave up. I remember clearly the moment I decided to involve Eli into kitchen life with me. He was two at the time and he just kept demanding my attention while I was trying to cook. I was scared of the safety elements, but telling him to stay away wasn’t working, and having him around, constantly needing interaction, was killing the joy I used to feel from cooking as a way to de-stress.
Scenes of big Greek or Moroccan families flashed before my eyes and I thought to myself, cooking and kids shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive tasks – surely there must be a way to do things together?
It wasn’t that simple, though, especially in such a small space.
Once I started investigating the possibility of letting Eli cook with me, it became clear why Western families have closed the door on this room to kids – the kitchen, with its open flames, boiling water, hot ovens and electrical items near to water has the potential for disaster without heavy supervision.
Kids Need Space
But I didn’t want to be a “helicopter mom,” hovering over my boys, correcting their mistakes in real time.
I wanted to give them the space to mess up and mess around and be messy – I know from personal experience that experimentation is the best way to learn to cook.
These 5 things made cooking with my kids safer
So I analyzed the problem and came up with a list of dangers and solutions:
1. Open flames —> Use contained heat such as ovens and microwaves or use non-bake recipes for fridge or freezer.
2. Sharps —> Either select recipes that do not require chopping, grating or slicing or pre-chop everything so it’s ready to use safely.
3. Kettles —> Select recipes that do not require boiling liquids such as sugar syrups or melting butter. That means no boiling of pasta or rice.
4. Child-sized portions —> Recipes need to be able to be reduced to make child-size portions (ie. cut the portion in half or in 4).
5. Spitting grease —> Do not use open pans with oil or butter.
This list went on, but the most fascinating thing I realised once I started looking for recipes that met my new health & safety criteria, was that all of them involved baking as the form of cooking.
(Another obvious perk of baking is the fact the result is almost always a delicious treat! Dangling this end goal is always useful when encouraging the kids to clean as they go!).
A Word On Heat Sources
Limiting the heat source to just an oven or a microwave means the kids don’t have control of the heat source at all. Instead I tell them to order me around – which they love! – like their sous chef when they’re ready to bake their mixture.
Baking almost always uses “soft” utensils like wooden spoons or silicone spatulas. Whisks can be downsized to forks for little hands, and if a recipe really calls for a bit of aeration, I use an electric whisk with them (or for them, depending on the child’s age).
What are some good types of recipes to look for?
I designed and wrote recipes to keep the kids engaged and busy, which meant, after a few goes doing cooking using our new methods, I could cook or bake alongside them, feeling like a supermom and almost back to my old self!
Some other great recipe types for family cooking to look for are:
- Breadsthat don’t require proofing (and tire kids’ patience out) such as Cuban style breads, scones, flat breads and certain foccacias. A great place to look is also Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes.
The Methods That Became Little Cookery
The methods I developed eventually became Little Cookery, of which book one could almost be renamed “Little Baking,” because this more accurately describes what you’re going to learn together.
Actually, it’s just step one to start working together safely in the kitchen, using baking as a vehicle to practice listening and working together.
I envisage the next development of Little Cookery will include more techniques and tools that expands their knowledge and understanding of the incredibly rich and varied world of cooking.
But, for now, Little Cookery explains my methods for keeping my boys safe when I’m the only adult around while providing for them those childhood smells, experiences and textures that come with a family life in the kitchen.
Give It A Try
If you’d like to give my recipes a try, why not grab the free, printable starter pack straight away! This amazing starter pack contains everything you need to get started with kids in the kitchen.
Besides the important information that teaches parents how to prepare for cooking as well as my best tips, you’ll find a recipe for banana bread as well. All the Little Cookery recipes are based on Cooking By Colours so that even kids as young as two can learn how to be independent and confident little cooks.
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