Cooking with kids can be lots of fun and a chance to spend some quality family time together.
It can also be pretty stressful – I doubt there’s a parent out there who doesn’t have a tale to tell of family cooking gone wrong!
To help you avoid a kitchen disaster, here are my top ten tips for cooking with kids.
Choose your recipe wisely
Your chosen recipe ideally needs to suit the age and ability of your children, and your cooking ability too.
It’s a good idea to begin with basic recipes that you’re confident you can manage while also supervising the kids. You can always choose a trickier dish next time.
When it comes to cooking, kids tend to have bags of enthusiasm but no patience. Even if you’ve chosen the simplest of recipes, it’s well worth taking some time to plan the activity before you tell the kids it’s time to cook.
Gather together your ingredients and equipment and clear your work surfaces. Then read the recipe method thoroughly – this will help you identify which bits the kids can do, and where you’ll need to help them.
A little advance planning means you’ll be calm and ready to go, instead of poking around in cupboards while trying to supervise eager little hands.
Take a look at the equipment and cooking methods involved from a safety point of view. If your recipe requires grown-ups to step in with sharp implements, keep these well out of reach of little hands.
If possible, set up your workspace away from the oven and hob; this will give you fewer hazards to look out for and make the activity much less stressful.
Try new foods
Cooking with children is a great way to introduce a wider variety of foods into their diets, as well as teaching them about where their food comes from and the importance of healthy eating.
The fact that they have been involved in the preparation makes it much less daunting for them to try new flavours and dishes; it’s hard to resist tasting something you’ve made yourself, after all.
Encourage good hygiene habits
A family cooking session is a great time to have a chat about hygiene and why it’s important to keep germs out of our food.
Make sure little hands are washed before you start; it’s worth tying back any long hair, too.
Know when to step back
It can be hard to step back and let little ones get on with it in the kitchen, but it’s no fun for them simply watching the grown-ups do everything.
Giving them responsibility for the safer tasks allows them to learn, explore and have fun while still under your watchful eye. Just try your hardest not to take over when they inevitably do it their way.
Cooking is a wonderfully tactile experience and a great way to explore textures, tastes and smells with children.
Let them touch and taste the food as they cook it (using clean spoons, of course) and look for recipes that include activities that children really can do themselves.
This can appear tricky when there’s a wide range of ages involved, but remember that young children take the smallest of jobs very seriously when you give them sole responsibility.
Expect a mess
Not many adults can cook without making a mess, so don’t expect children to manage it either.
Yes, by the time you’ve finished your kitchen will be covered in flour, your sink will be full of sticky utensils and your kids will be wearing almost as much food as they’ve actually cooked (make sure you’ve all swapped best clothes for scruffs before you start), but promise yourself not to get stressed and try to focus on how much fun everyone is having. You can all get stuck in to cleaning up together at the end.
Allow plenty of time
Cooking with kids inevitably takes longer than the times quoted in recipes, so make sure you allow yourself extra time.
Being up against a mealtime deadline or the need to leave the house is asking for trouble, too. It’s a good idea to save family cooking for a more relaxed time such as weekends, when it’s easier to keep it as a fun activity rather than something you’re trying to fit in around the rest of the day’s jobs.
Once you’ve all got the hang of cooking together a few times, you can move on to tackling some evening meals.
Fact: food cooked by kids won’t look like the picture in the cookbook - but who cares? The kids will be enormously proud of their culinary achievements and that’s what counts, isn’t it?
Emily Leary is a writer and presenter, as well as a busy mum of two with a love of all things creative. Her blog, A Mummy Too, began in 2011 and now shares daily recipes, tips and video guides for anyone who believes a shortage of spare time shouldn't mean you can't enjoy beautiful, delicious things.