“Mummy, can I roast a chicken – all by myself?”
I’ll admit I stopped to consider whether this was possible, for about... half a second, before vehemently shaking my head. An eight-year-old, let loose on an oven? No. Just no. Unthinkable. Right?
Well, I did think about it. And the more I did, the more it seemed like a fine idea. It took a lot of work, which was a godsend in a year when finding innovative ways to occupy your kids has become so essential. She chose the menu herself, carefully researching online what she wanted to cook, then wrote down a shopping list of ingredients. She asked if she could come to the supermarket with me, rather than dragging her feet and whining. And she actually offered to tidy up the dining room to make it clean and clutter-free. I know.
It was glorious to see how excited she was, and made me realise that aside from baking cupcakes and the occasional banana bread (it is 2020, after all), I could – and should – involve my kids in cooking meals a whole lot more.
Tempted to give it a go in your own household? Here’s how it went for us, to give you a taster.
Starter: Cream cheese and strawberries on crackers
Main: Roast chicken dinner
Yep, you read that right. Cheese and strawberries on crackers to start. “I was in bed and just thought of what I would like to eat,” my eight-year-old told me, when I asked her where the (somewhat bizarre) combination had come from. “Maybe I dreamed it, actually,” she added. Which actually made a lot of sense.
Cutting up the strawberries was easy enough – she used a knife with a serrated edge that’s safe for kids. It’s even sturdy enough for my three-year-old to use to chop up (real) mushrooms and tomatoes for his (toy) kitchen, and meant I could leave her to do it by herself without worrying she’d hurt herself. A substantial amount of cream cheese got smeared on the kitchen worktop, of course, but that was par for the (first) course.
The main dish was my real concern. She wanted to cook “a proper roast dinner”, which meant roasting a chicken... in an oven. By herself.
For that bit, I watched from a careful (close) distance to remind her to wash her hands properly, before and after handling raw meat. She plopped it into a roasting dish without any issues, and used a brush to add oil and salt. At one point, she left the dirty brush on the kitchen worktop – just another opportunity to talk about good hygiene (which has never been more important).
We’d already preheated the oven – I had to do that, as the button is out of reach – but she was able to open the door and put the dish in without any problems. She asked Google Home to set a timer for 1hr 40. Job done. We didn’t actually have anything to put in the oven with the chicken, but... baby steps. Right?
Next were the cupcakes, which she worked on while the chicken cooked. With an easy recipe, needing just a few ingredients, she was able to do it all by herself. She even made her own piping bag for the icing, using some cellophane we had in the ‘art drawer’, inspired by the Great British Bake Off.
I found myself hovering, at this point – more because I was anxious about the mess, rather than worrying whether she was doing it right. But she was unshakeable in her self-belief. “Go away, Mummy,” she said, calmly. “I have cracked an egg before, you know.” All that was missing was the eye-roll.
The cupcakes joined the chicken in a different part of the oven until it was done – and that’s where my role became more vital. No matter how mature she is, I wasn’t confident letting her don oven gloves and take out a piping hot dish alone. That bit’s reserved for adults – ditto, the carving (though, she was able to use her knife for some of it), and making the gravy (I didn’t want to risk any accidents after boiling the kettle).
“With great excitement, she called us in for dinner. She’d even made us all place-settings bearing our names.”
And there we had it. With great excitement, she called us in for dinner. She’d even made us all place-settings bearing our names.
How was it all, you ask? The starter pretty much tasted of cream cheese and strawberries, on Jacobs cream crackers. The unexpected benefit was my three-year-old son, who won’t eat anything but plain rice, peanut butter and turkey dinosaurs, declared it “delicious”. She’s achieved something I haven’t been able to. Win.
The chicken was perfect – the skin crispy and golden, the sea salt and olive oil she basted it with giving it a wonderful tang. Win. And the cupcakes were high on taste, low on presentation – nevertheless, her brother liked them so much he smeared them in his hair.
What did she learn? Pride, some cooking tips, and confidence. Not only did it teach her about healthy eating, measurements and safety, it also gave her some essential life skills.
And I learned something, too: such as what it tastes like to eat strawberries and cream cheese on crackers. That, and the fact our kids can do so much more than we often give them credit for. We just have to trust them – and make sure they’re safe.