I regularly contribute to a great Melbourne radio station, LightFM and this morning I chatted to Luke and Lucy about being in the kitchen with kids and how much fun and educational it can be for everyone. Here’s a little of what we spoke about, including some easy-to-do recipes to inspire your child using the senses as a starting point.
Being in the kitchen can really get the senses of young children buzzing. Think sound, sight, smell, touch, taste. But how do you make it fun for everyone? The greatest tip I can give is to involve your child in as much of the preparation of every meal as possible. Try hard not to underestimate their ability*. I have been guilty of this in the past but now constantly encourage my children to “have a go”. I’m also a firm believer that time in the kitchen with kids needs to be wild, noisy, messy, fun (and just a little rude) and as an adult, you need to give yourself over to an afternoon of mild chaos.
This is my all time favourite. I’m sure it’s how my mother got me to eat and love celery. Grate some carrot and finely chop some celery stalks. Take two pieces of bread. Smother with peanut butter; add a layer of raspberry jam, a layer of grated carrot and a layer of chopped celery. Heaven. A rainbow sandwich! Every child I’ve ever presented this too has loved it. But more so if they are involved in the preparation of it. It’s not the healthiest option, but once a month or so, I don’t think it can hurt and it’s a taste and textural wowsa. If your child has a nut allergy, substitute the peanut butter with hummous or tahini.
Fruit skewers Summer is the perfect time to have fun with fruit. Take some strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, canteloupe, rockmelon, pineapple, some edible flowers such as nasturtium or basil, some mint leaves and thread alternately onto a skewer. Then eat! So pretty and colourful – just like a rainbow. You can dip into yogurt or BBQ them for extra zing.
Smoothies There’s nothing like the pure vibrant colours produced by smoothies. Bright pink for strawberries, “Hare Krishna” orange for mangoes, bright green for kiwi fruit, although strangely bananas don’t translate – they just turn an insipid beige. Kids love making smoothies and they are a healthy option. If your child is lactose intolerant, use ice instead of milk and cream. Still delicious.
Cakes Buy a good quality cake mix or if you have time, bake a cake from scratch. I’ve never met a child under 8 who doesn’t ADORE making a cake. Let them loose with the food dye and cake decorating becomes a rainbow/sight extravaganza.
The smells of the kitchen can be fantastic and intriguing. Spend an afternoon exploring those smells whilst blindfolded. Include some of the yukkier smells such as the garbage bin or dog bowl. It’s great fun, I promise…
You can’t really go past jelly here. It’s just so wobbly and easy for kids to make. Add some chopped up fruit to the cooling jelly for extra fun. There are low fat versions nowadays that taste pretty good.
Making your own playdough is also great fun and the added bonus of making your own (free of chemicals and preservatives) is that you don’t need to worry too much if your kid decides to taste test! There are many recipes around but I think I have the perfect one. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll email you the recipe.
Kids love noise. Remember that cooking can make great theatre. Very little children can bang the saucepans and spoons together or stack and unstack plastic containers. Fill up some containers with different items and encourage them to shake them to hear the different noises. Older kids will love getting involved in the actual process of cooking and thrill to the loud cacophony of noises produced by grinding, whizzing, pounding or beating.
Pesto pasta Pick some basil (at its best during summer), a large handful of pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, some extra virgin olive oil, a handful of grated parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon and a good dash of salt and pepper. Don’t bother chopping any of it. Simply pop it all into a food processor or blender and whizz until it forms a paste. Adjust your quantities until you’ve achieved a consistency and taste to suit. Boil some pasta, spoon into bowls, add a few dollops of your pesto on top and voila! A quick, easy and healthy summer meal. The kids can do every part of making the pesto. They can pick the basil and pull the leaves from the stems (I tend to use the stems too), peel the garlic, pour the oil, chop and squeeze the lemon, grate the cheese and add the salt and pepper. Most enjoyable for them, however, will be controlling the blender!
There’s nothing like the sound of popcorn pinging around the inside of a microwave. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels, some brown paper bags and you’re ready to go. Popcorn, lightly salted is an excellent, healthy addition to any school box.
Mashed potatoes Such a simple thing to do and most kids love mashed spuds. Wash, peel and chop up some potatoes. Add to a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain, add butter and a little milk. Set too with the masher. Have them listen to the squishing pounding noises. Even better if you have a bamix. Again the kids can do every part of this. They can peel and chop the potatoes, pour the cold water into the saucepan and add the potatoes. Probably best you drain the potatoes from the boiling water. Then the kids can add the butter and milk and mash. Even more exciting for children if you have a bamix to hand. Top with some chopped chives, mint or parsley.
* When kids are in the kitchen only their parents and carers truly know their child’s ability or developmental stage. So be guided by this. For example, if little Johnny isn’t yet proficient with a knife, give him a gentler, safer task or a blunt knife…. Giving them their own set of cooking implement, including an apron is a good idea.