Unless you’re happy for your children to survive on takeaways or beans on toast after they leave home, you need to make sure they know how to cook.
But while new research shows more than 80% of parents think cooking with their kids is important and teaches them a valuable life skill, only 32% of parents cook with their children more than once a month, and 14% admit they never cook with their kids.
As such, the research by Uncle Ben’s ‘Ben’s Beginner’s’ campaign, which aims to inspire families to cook together and increase their confidence in the kitchen, found nearly three quarters of children aged nine don’t know how to boil an egg, and two fifths are unsure how to peel a potato.
However, parents failing to teach their kids to cook isn’t quite as simple as them just not bothering to do it, as the Ben’s Beginners Kitchen Confidence study found there were several barriers to parent-child cookery instruction – 41% of parents said they wish they had more time to cook with their children, and 24% said they’d be more inclined to do so if it was less messy.
And as well as time and mess, a quarter of parents said they don’t cook with their kids simply because the children aren’t interested.
However, kids’ cooking expert Fiona Hamilton-Fairley stresses that by not learning to cook, children are missing out on essential life skills which could also lead to unhealthy eating habits later in life.
“We know the impact that cooking and eating as a family has on health, but we also know the challenges of today’s busy lifestyle and getting kids to be enthusiastic and engaged in the kitchen,” says Hamilton-Fairley, chief executive of The Kids’ Cookery School in London.
“Parents are time-poor, and a lot of them are frightened of the mess, the chaos and the out-of-control moments. And also, there’s a certain amount of danger.
“But one day, those kids are going to have to make something in a kitchen, however old they are, so the earlier they start learning how to do it, the better.” She gives the following advice to get kids cooking:
Start young: Hamilton-Fairley suggests parents should initially get young children, from the age of about three, to sit on a stool in the kitchen helping out, obviously not with sharp implements, but measuring, touching and tasting.
Food origins: Understanding where food comes from is a key part of encouraging children to enjoy cooking, Hamilton-Fairley explains. “Many children don’t know where their food comes from, or that some of it, like pasta for instance, is actually made first. They need to understand that food’s not just from supermarkets; how it gets there, where it grows or comes from. It adds a bit more excitement to meals for them.”
Food they like: It’s important to start with food children are interested in, usually pizzas, rice, potatoes etc. “Making a pizza from scratch is very easy,” says Hamilton-Fairley, “but it’s only easy if you know how, and what to buy. But once they’ve made it, their pride is huge that they did it themselves, and they’ll start to experiment with different ingredients.”
Keep it simple: Another easy idea is making a rice-based dish, to which all sorts of healthy ingredients can be added, and even making bread with the kids, which she promises is much easier than people think. Some of the best recipes are the simplest, she says, and favourites like spaghetti bolognese are always winners to make and eat with kids.
Safety first: Obviously, much cooking involves using sharp implements, and Hamilton-Fairley says knowing when a child is responsible enough to use a knife is a judgement individual parents have to make. She suggests many children start using knives safely from around the age of eight. “Know your child, and realise they’re going to have to pick up a knife at some point, so it’s best you show them how to do it properly and safely,” she says.
Keep it healthy: “It’s very important for parents to teach not just the cooking but the health implications,” stresses Hamilton-Fairley, explaining that this might include why fresh food, low-fat, low-sugar and low-salt is important. “Our children are literally growing up living on takeaways, and this is why we have so many health problems.”
Tasty choices: Hamilton-Fairley says a lot of children are used to bland food, and as they grow, their tastebuds change. By learning to cook themselves, they can include flavours they like and are therefore more likely to eat in their cooking, rather than being forced to eat flavours chosen by their parents. “Once their tastebuds are brought to life and they start having some great tastes on their palate, I think they’re more encouraged to cook,” says Hamilton-Fairley.
Make time: “Turn the telly or the tablets off and make the time to prepare, cook and eat together,” advises Hamilton-Fairley. “Some parents are doing way too much – if not everything – in the kitchen, and they’re not challenging their children by even asking simple things like can they make some toast. It’s very important to do that – we don’t want to bring up a generation of kids that can’t do anything in the kitchen.”
She warns that parents shouldn’t force children to cook, as it could ruin their confidence, but advises: “Just try to get into the kitchen together, and realise you’re not going to make a gourmet meal at the first attempt, but maybe by the fourth or fifth time you’ll be experimenting and really having fun.”
Written by Andrew Moore
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