Your little ones simply adore copying what you do, and when your working in the kitchen, nothing will make them happier than to play with the same kitchen implements that you use - wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks and bowls. Of course, they don't need to mess up your lovely kitchen utensils, although nylon and wooden ones would be perfectly safe for them, you can also buy whole sets of kitchen utensils from any toy store.
Pretend kitchen play is a valuable pastime for all kids. At a physical level they are learning about materials and honing their fine motor skills as they drop ingredients into bowls and stir them. They are also growing their understanding of how food is prepared, learning what is involved and about where their meals come from.
As they grow older you can move from pretend utensils to real ones, and from play food to real 'dried foods' (such as pasta, dried fruit, cereal etc.) and on to genuine cooking. Next time you are in a supermarket, take a look in the home baking aisle and you will find all manner of easy foods that you can whip up with the kids.
Here are some simply foods that you can buy from the supermarket and which even the youngest children can 'cook':-
- 'Shake and bake' fairy cakes - just add milk, put into cake cases and bake
- Home bake scone mix - just add water (and raisins if you like), mix, roll, cut and back
- Home made muffin mix - just add a little oil, water and an egg, put into cases and bake
- Fresh croissant or pain au chocolate - sometimes difficult to find in the supermarket (try the chiller cabinets where ready made pastry is), fresh dough comes in a tube; open, shape the pastries onto a baking tray and bake
- Pizza - buy a fresh base and spread with your favourite toppings; start with a plain dough and add passata and cheese, or buy a Margherita and add your own flavours. Cook as per instructions
All these products can be prepared in around 5 minutes and baked in around 20, and can form a part of the children's real meals. Try to cook with your children at least once a week and they will have a whale of a time!
The idea of cooking with children might fill you with horror, what with the mess, the organisation, the dangers and the unappetising results, but, with a little planning, careful thought and a bit of patience, you can all have a fulfilling and fun time in the kitchen.
Cooking actually covers various areas of the EYFS development programme and so it is a great focus activity.
- Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy - count, weigh and measure ingredients together.
- Physical Development - health and bodily awareness when talking about healthy foods and using new and exotic tools to cook with.
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development - great sense of achievement when it's finished; personal hygiene when washing hands and preparing and learning about safety in a kitchen.
While cooking: Show your children the recipe and get all the ingredients ready in advance. Guide and direct the children through the cooking and keep them engaged so they don't get distracted and do their own thing. Use tools and bowls that are the appropriate size so they feel in control and able to do the task. Allow them to do as much as you can themselves without endangering them. Talk about the dangers and hot areas to avoid (oven, hob etc). Encourage them to help clear up and taste the food afterwards.
Why should they cook?
- Introduce new foods and ways of eating.
- Explain how foods and meals are made.
- They learn numbers, counting and measuring.
- They have to listen to instructions and carry the instructions out.
- They have to understand sequencing - you have to break the egg before you whisk it!
- They can make some great creations!
- It's fun!
There are times when you need to be getting on with preparing the next meal and you have your little ones snapping around your ankles getting ever so slightly in the way - if you can sit them down at a table or on the floor and keep them occupied, then you'll find that you can get on with your work that much more easily! Here's a great idea to help occupy your toddlers in the kitchen...
Take a mixing bowl and add a small handful of three or four different types and shapes of dried pasta - bows, tubes, spirals, twists and so on. Mix them all up. Give your little one a muffin tray and have them sort the pasta back into the right shapes, filling the cups in the muffin tray with each of the different types of pasta. Hopefully this will keep them occupied for some time and they will enjoy this as much as doing a puzzle.
For older children you can make the challenge a little harder by using rice, lentils and other smaller dried foods amongst the pasta.
This is a great activity to let your children loose on every time you want to cook in the kitchen and they want to 'cook' too! This activity incorporates shape matching and encourages their fine motor skills as they have to pick up small pieces of pasta and place them in the right place.
Most nurseries and reception year classes have a 'Home Corner' where young children are encouraged to play 'house'; you can easily create your own Home Corner for your own children or ones you look after. The Home Corner promotes dramatic play, both for individual children and for children participating in cooperative play. Give your children things that they see in their home and they will mimic what they have seen adults doing.
You can buy children's equivalents of kitchen 'white goods' - cookers, washing machines and fridges, but all of these are easy to make out of simple cardboard boxes. Acquire some suitable boxes from your local supermarket, cover them with plain paper, then paint on the relevant features: hobs on the cooker and a window and buttons on the washing machine. Cut out doors in the boxes - a full panel for the fridge, a small square for the oven and a round porthole for the washing machine. Score the back of each door with a knife along its hinged edge to allow it to fold open easily. Use a plastic bowl for a sink, just place it on another box that can have a door in to act as a cupboard. In no time at all you'll have a simple Home Corner that will keep your little ones happy for years!
In addition to appliances, add props. Donate old kitchen equipment like wooden spoons, mixing bowls and other implements. Toy stores sell play implements, but you will probably find it as cheap to buy real plastic sets from a supermarket! Add sets of plastic or wooden food from a toy shop.
If you have some low shelves, make these a part of the Home Corner too. Encourage your children to put everything away neatly and keep their Home tidy!
You are more likely to contract food poisoning in your own home than from a restaurant, that's slightly surprising, but it's true because there are so many ways that bacteria can contaminate food that we are about to eat. It's vital to store food properly. Here are some pointers and some reasons why!
- Raw meat should be stored separately to food that's ready to eat (cheese, salad, fruit). You don't need a separate fridge, but you do need to keep them apart. Keep raw met at the bottom of the fridge.
- Make sure all foods are covered.
- If you are defrosting raw food, make sure none of the water or defrosted liquid gets onto any of the other foods. Why? Because there are bacteria on raw foods that could contaminate foods you are about to eat.
- Always use a clean copping board and knife when cutting raw food and cooked food. Why? Bacteria can even spread from the knife or chopping board onto other foods.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables before you eat them. Why? Because they may have harmful bacteria on them and if you don't wash them you'll eat them too!
What's the difference between 'sell by', 'use by' and 'best before' dates?
Sell by - this is the date by which the shop need to sell the goods. There may well be a few days after this date that the food will be fine to eat.
Use by - this is the date by which the food must have been consumed - or throw it away! If you were a restaurant and you served food after the "use by" date it would be against the law.
Best before - this is all about quality. The food would be fine to eat after the sell by date, but it will be past its best.
Other things to remember:
- Keep pets away from food preparation areas.
- Keep equipment in good condition and replace splitting wooden spoons, cracked chopping boards etc.
- Steralise surfaces and equipment periodically.
- Keep you kitchen clean and sweep the floor often to prevent pests.
- Keep raw food covered in the fridge and when getting ready to cook.
Food hygiene is especially important if you have children in your home, both to practice and to teach them about so that they grow up understanding how to prepare food safely.