NB: Photography by Minal Photography.
I have lost count of the amount of times I've heard intelligent, caring, perfectly competent parents state that they just can't bring themselves to let their kids help in the kitchen due to the mess, time, possible wastage, etc.
Well I'm afraid I can't smile sweetly anymore. (Maybe it's the pregnancy hormones?) Sorry to be blunt, but how on earth do these folks expect their sons/daughters to fend for themselves upon leaving home without such a basic skill? You wouldn't send them out into the world without other essential skills, like say, breathing, so why is it a badge of honour to proclaim your anal retentiveness is a barrier to allowing the kids to learn another basic life skill?
This isn't just about preparing kids to fend for themselves. If it were, we'd just teach children 10 basic, super healthy dishes and be done with it. This is about expanding tastes, helping fussy eaters embrace food (for what a little one prepares them seem to be so much more likely to eat) and simply wallowing in the joy that is Good Food. It's about preparing them for a life where a treat isn't junk food, but something homemade and delicious. (Which is why I am a huge supporter of what the folks at Organix are doing with their #NoJunk pledge.)
I do get it, I know they like to spread ingredients about. I know they tend to suggest adding more of pretty much everything, especially when they're 3, because let's face it, more is more when barely out of nappies. I know they often suggest odd combinations with such a look of expectation and wonder that it's hard to say no to cocoa scrambled eggs. There is a way around all this though.
For me it's about age appropriate helping. When the boys were under two they mostly put the vegetables on the chopping board, we talked about colours, textures and they always had their own spoon, a little bowl and two tablespoons of flour with some form of spice to mix up. They didn't actually contribute very much to the process of cooking dinner, but they thought they did, and that's what matters.
They moved on to cracking eggs (and yes, we did sometimes find a bit of shell in our food but hey ho, I've eaten worse), stirring, peeling, cutting, layering, marinading - pretty much anything that doesn't involve heat at the moment. They are interested in food, they like choosing fruit and vegetables at the shops, they especially enjoy making salad dressing potions and washing up, (at the moment), is similarly exciting.
Here are my tips for happy kids and parents in the kitchen:
1. Let them know there are parameters of what's acceptable. You know your limits. For me the kitchen is a place to be treated with respect - we don't throw food, we treat each other kindly and we don't eat anything unless it's deemed okay by Mummy. I don't enjoy trips to out of hours surgeries with tummies full of raw chicken.
2. Choose recipes where they can get involved. Sounds obvious but anything where the main bulk of the time is spent deep frying or slicing with a mandolin is only going to end in bored tears.
3. Allow some autonomy. Imagine never being able to deviate from a recipe? Life would be boring. It's the same for kids. If they suggest adding a little onion to a dish why not try it? You might like it. (Ignore this advice for cocoa scrambled eggs, take it from me - they're not great.)
4. If your budget allows it, indulge in a small apron, possibly even a hat. Children do seem to love a dress up opportunity.
5. Christmas and birthdays are perfect for some child size utensils. We have a small sieve, a tiny wooden spoon and a small whisk. In the meantime a tablespoon and a cereal bowl are quite adequate.
6. Think of a meal like a good story; it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It starts with discussing, planning and shopping, it builds to the actual food preparation and the cooking and it ends with laying the table, taking drinks orders (the unadulterated happiness of a child with a piece of paper, playing waiter is beautiful) and clearing plates.
7. Always, but always have a tea towel and/or wipes on standby for wiping egg smeared hands, floury tables and spillages. Yes there will be mess, but come on, let's keep some perspective.
Kids do love making fairy cakes and biscuits, granted, but watching their joy at feeding the whole family an evening meal that's lingered over, discussed and praised is a joy to behold. These little fritters are a great recipe that can be meddled with, whatever your age and are perfect as a snack or starter. Don't like or have courgettes? Use onion, squash, parsnip, aubergine of whatever takes your fancy instead. Similarly these can be spiced up with chilli, cumin, chives, coriander or whatever else you have in your cupboard.
Makes seven - eight
85g self-raising flour (wholemeal/white)
½ tsp baking powder
One large egg
A pinch of black pepper
One clove of garlic, crushed
One small carrot, peeled and grated (approx. 45g)
½ medium courgette, grated (approx. 70g)
55g grated cheddar
One tbsp sunflower oil
Stir the flour, baking powder, egg, milk, black pepper and garlic to a thick paste. Add the carrot, courgette and cheddar, stir well and set aside for five minutes.
Meanwhile heat the oil in a large frying pan on a low heat. Transfer a heaped tablespoon of the mixture into the pan, then repeat until you have four spoonfuls gently frying, well spaced.
After two minutes use a slice to flip and fry each fritter on the other side for two more minutes. (You can squash the fritters gently to speed the process up at this point.) Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll, then repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve warm as finger food with or without dips.
NB: These keep in the fridge for three days, well wrapped. Re-heat in a preheated oven at 180C/gas mark four for five minutes before serving. If you fancy making these for breakfast weigh out the flour and baking powder in one bowl and the grated ingredients in another (refrigerated) the night before. Then you're only 10 minutes away from these moreish little morsels.
Plenty more #NoJunk recipes at Recipes from a Normal Mum, written by Holly Bell