Friday 18 January 2013

Foodie Friday: Snow day, cooking with kids

It started snowing just as we were getting ready to go out for week two of Baking Bears at the local children's centre. It's a popular activity with a waiting list so I was delighted when I got the call before Christmas telling us we'd finally made it onto the toddler cookery course. It is a shame we're missing it this week, but I don't feel so bad because I do bake with my boy at home. Nothing too taxing, biscuits, cupcakes and occasionally something exciting involving pastry cutters, but he does like to stir things and help with measuring out ingredients. Of course the best bit is the tasting at the end.

ELC toy baking set with mixer, weighing scales, mixing bowl, measuring spoons and rolling pin
Great British Bake off here we come !
In the early days of going to playgroups he was always a big fan of the kitchen activities and would always make a beeline for the 'home corner' so we decided to get him a toy kitchen to play with at home. My kindly cousin had to rehome her daughter's kitchen so we acquired a very pink and purple Disney princess cooker which he loved. He's also recently been given a brilliant toy baking set by my sister which he is fascinated by. The hand mixer is just like Mummy's and you can add batteries to make it work to give an authentic feel to your play baking.

At nursery earlier this week the pre-schoolers prepared their own snacks using safe knives. They often prepare fruit or bagels for afternoon tea and learn how to use kitchen utensils safely. The experience of real food preparation helps children to understand where their meals come from and also helps develop their manual dexterity. I know my son recognises that when the microwave pings it usually means something is cooked, but he also knows that the saucepan on the hob often has hot soup or boiled eggs in it, the rolling pin is used to prepare chapattis and that the oven is where the yummy cakes and biscuits come from.

When I spoke to Mother-in-law earlier she recounted that Mary Berry says instead of giving children playdoh why not give them actual dough so they get a feel for cooking and baking real food ? Of course that would make the playdoh barber shop a bit like Sweeney Todd's, but you get the point. And it's not just the queen of the Great British Bake Off who thinks we should cook with our kids, Cbeebies has a plethora of cooking programmes aimed at little ones. Our snow day viewing has included I Can Cook and on Something Special Justin was making shortbread with his friends. In the past my son has watched Big Cook Little Cook with fascination (much like I watch Come Dine With Me) and the lunchtime song is a favourite in our house.

I'd recommend introducing cooking to young children - and I hope these tips are helpful:
  •  Be prepared for mess - if it bothers you put a lot of newspaper or a sheet on the floor first.
  • Relax if they eat the ingredients - tasting is all part of the learning and a bit of raw pastry isn't going to do any harm 
  • Make a game of the practical activities - washing hands at the start and the implements at the end. If you put a washing up bowl onto a low table covered with lots of tea-towels it gives little ones the chance to have lots of fun.
  • Reward your little chef with first taste - I always make a smaller version of everything so that he has his own ones 

toddler wearing an apron washing up using a grey bowl on a table with tea towels underneath.
My little washing machine
It's with all this in mind that I took my boy for his first session of Baking Bears last week and it would be fair to say he was underwhelmed. I'm not sure if it was because we usually go to the children's centre for stay and play and he wanted to go outside to drive the tiny tikes cars or because he was just too tired, but he was as moody as Gordon Ramsey and as energetic as Jamie Oliver in his attempts to escape the kitchen. The first session was preparing a fruit yoghurt and he enjoyed 'sampling' the fruit (some of which I managed to salvage for the recipe), but his favourite part was definitely the washing up at the end.

He may not be the next Heston, but then I'm no Nigella.

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