It’s no secret that I love our cooking classes.
As someone who went to culinary school myself, I take great pride in our cooking and baking classes – they are jammed full of fantastic learning opportunities, as well as really tasty treats! I was brought up with a “get in the kitchen and try” mentality – which is something we always want to encourage in all our students. The kitchen isn’t a place to be afraid of – it’s a place to create, experiment and dream!
It’s true – the more you encourage children to participate in the pleasures of cooking, the more they’ll understand and love what they eat. After more than 10 years of cooking with Explore It! students we’ve come up with our top tips for getting in the kitchen – but really, it’s the getting in there that matters the most. A child involved with cooking for the family routinely will grow into an adult who knows their way around a kitchen and is comfortable attempting a range of culinary creations. Trust me – I was that kid (thanks Mom!), and I am now that adult. Exploration fosters experience which breeds interest, ability and passion… AND you get to eat what you make – what could be better?!
So – we encourage you to get in the kitchen and explore. To help, we’ve compiled some of our favourite family- and child-friendly recipes into a cookbook. All recipes are tried, tasted and true – some need more supervision than others, but all encourage even the pickiest eaters to explore. Download our Explore Cooking pdf now by clicking on the image to the right or scroll down to see images from the book here.
Our top tips:
• Teach children the value in supporting local with your purchases – it matters.
Make the choice to buy and eat the best you can afford. Buy ripe, in-season, local produce – at a grocery store or farmer’s market. Feature items like asparagus in spring, strawberries in summer, apples in fall and root veggies in winter. Meat – if you choose to eat it – should be as local and humane as possible. Perfection. After your kids (and you!) taste that intense balanced flavor and texture, products from thousands of miles away will never taste quite right again. It’s better for you. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for the economy. You’ll appreciate it and your kids will too.
• Dig in.
A dirty piece of produce teaches kids about where food comes from. Let them see the beauty of a bunch of carrots pulled straight from the ground, soil still clinging to the tops. Tell your kids about the farmers who grew them. The people who picked them. The sun. The rain. The earth. Even better, take them to a farmer’s market and ask them to pick something for themselves. Introduce them to the person at the stand. Chances are they are the farmer or know the farmer and can tell your kids about the harvest. Once you’re home with your selections, have them rinse the dirt off. Let them care for the vegetables or fruit. Let them dry them. Let them add them to the dish you’re preparing. And, voila: your kids are invested in all the right things, including the meal to come.
• Chop Chop.
Kids can cut too, as long as you give them a safe knife. Plastic disposable knives repurposed from takeout, plastic knives from a kids’ set, a butter or dinner knife with a less-than sharp serrated edge and a rounded point: all of these are a great introduction to knife skills for kids from 3 years old and up. Herbs, peeled fruit, and soft vegetables like zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes will yield to a kid-friendly knife and will easily involve the kids in food prep. Learning happens in the doing.
• Mess around.
Think of the kitchen as a playground. Flour will be spilled. Clothes will get dirty. Fun will and should ensue. Embrace the culinary chaos (with an eye on the stove and she sharp stuff). Let it happen. And an apron on everyone helps. It’s like suiting up for little league. Game on.
• Keep them safe.
For all the chaos, there needs to be a bit of order. So…
- Of course everyone should wash their hands before and after cooking. It’s the symbolic beginning and end to the cooking of a meal.
- Always turn pot handles in and away from the edge of the stove to keep hot stuff from spilling.
- Cook boiling liquids on the back burners, away from curious hands.
- Keep your knife block out of reach at the back of the counter.
- Keep your knives behind the cutting board. If a kid pulls a board off the counter, you don’t want the knife falling with it.
- Give the kids a step stool for a good view and position and give a their own dedicated space at the counter free of glassware, raw eggs, meat, and fish, and sharp tools (including peelers and micro-plane graters!). They’ll feel more in control and involved. And keep them busy with the safe stuff to keep them from grabbing your chef’s knife or raw chicken out of boredom.
• Don’t force it.
Engage the kids only as much as they want to be. Stuffing ravioli can be fun for a minute, but after five tries, it might get a bit dull for the little ones. And don’t expect culinary perfection. A tough cookie, messy ravioli, or mauled herbs can be their signature on the meal. Let them feel the joy. Let them eat it and enjoy it. Don’t go Gordon Ramsey on them. The kitchen can and should be a happy place for play and pleasure. And that’s a perfect foodie family affair.