Award-winning children’s food writer Amanda Grant shares her advice for teaching kids essential kitchen skills. With easy recipes and simple techniques, everyone from toddlers to teens can get involved.
Getting kids into the kitchen to help prepare meals is a great way to spark their interest in a wide variety of ingredients, to teach them how to cook and help them to understand and relax around food. This can mean giving them little jobs in the kitchen to help you make weeknight meals, as well as recipes of their own to follow.
Check out our favourite activities for kids to keep little hands occupied.
Kitchen jobs for younger children
Start by giving them small tasks such as cracking and whisking eggs, peeling garlic, grinding pepper, peeling onions, spreading butter and mixing dressings. These are all great jobs for younger children. Also, give them some salad or a bunch of carrots and a bowl of water to make them feel involved – it’s much more likely that they’ll eat salad or veg they’ve washed themselves.
Kitchen jobs for older children
If your children are older or as they become more confident in the kitchen, start to give them slightly more complicated skills like using scissors to cut leaves, herbs or tortilla wraps. Show them how to safely use a peeler and a grater.
They’ll also have fun learning how to measure using spoons and jugs — pouring liquids takes practice and is an easy way to keep them involved in the kitchen. Once you’ve shown them each skill, keep encouraging them to practise as much as possible, and their kitchen confidence will grow in no time.
Top tips for cooking with kids
- Use your own judgement about what they can help with and teach them about kitchen hygiene, making sure they wash their hands before they start and after touching any raw meat or fish.
- Turn all pan handles on hobs out of the way, keep sharp utensils out of harm’s way, and stay in the kitchen while they’re helping you.
- As you cook and prepare food, teach the children good habits by tasting, touching and smelling as many of the ingredients that you’re using as possible.
- Children can also help lay the table – and don’t forget about the washing up…
- Washing containers and utensils in soapy, bubbly water might appeal even more than the cooking, and if they’re in the kitchen and helping, everyone’s happy!
When it comes to deciding which recipes children want to cook on their own, try to encourage them to help make food that everyone can eat. Start with simple recipes like salad dressing – if they’ve made the dressing they’re more likely to eat the salad too! And making food they’re excited about eating, such as homemade fish fingers, is always a winner. You can then move on to other, more adventurous ideas, such as homemade falafel.
Simple salad dressing
You’re going to love this dressing. It’s good fun to make and you can practise useful skills such as measuring using spoons, peeling garlic and grinding pepper as you go. So come on, let’s shake, shake, shake…
Makes a big jam jar of dressing
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon English mustard (or any other mustard is fine too)
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper and a tiny pinch of salt
1. Peel the garlic clove by first peeling away the papery skin until you can see a whole, white clove underneath. Put the clove into a garlic crusher and squeeze hard to crush the garlic, then put into a clean jam jar.
2. Add the mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt. Then put the lid on the jam jar and shake, shake, shake…
3. Next, it’s time to use that dressing to dress some salad leaves. So let’s wash some leaves and cut up some herbs, using scissors. You won’t need all of this dressing for your salad, but it’ll keep in the fridge for a few days.
We love this simple and herby garden salad.
Fish finger wraps
Do you like fish fingers? Have you ever made your own? They’re good fun to make and taste amazing. Have a go at these and invite friends or family to eat them. Get everyone to fill their own wraps. Trust me, they’ll love them!
Takes about 30 minutes to make and 20 minutes to cook
Jobs for your child
Get the full fish finger wrap recipe here.
1. Brush a little oil on a baking tray.
2. Grate the lemon on the small part of the grater to make lemon zest, remembering to keep your fingers away from the sharp teeth.
3. Weigh the breadcrumbs and add to the lemon zest.
4. Use scissors to cut the herbs – stop cutting when you get to the stalks so you keep your fingers away from the sharp blades.
5. Weigh the flour and put into another bowl.
6. Crack the egg into a third bowl, and if any shell falls in, scoop it out with a spoon.
7. Now start a production line: dip the fish into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, then place each fillet straight onto the baking tray.
8. While the fish fingers are in the oven, if you fancy making your own tartare sauce, you won’t regret it…
9. Put the tortilla wraps, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes and lemon quarters in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves.
Using scissors, cut the dill into small pieces and put it into a bowl. Always keep your fingers away from the scissors, as they can be really sharp. Measure all the other ingredients, put into a bowl and mix with a spoon.
Time to get your hands into the bowl and get messy. This is all about squashing, mashing, mixing and shaping, with some measuring thrown in too.
Takes about 30 minutes to make and 15 minutes to cook
Jobs for your child
Get the full falafel burger recipe here.
1. Brush a little of the oil on a baking tray. Tip the tin of drained chickpeas into a large bowl. Put the garlic clove on to a board and press hard with the back of a spoon. Push the spoon down on the garlic clove until it splits open.
2. Peel the papery skin off the garlic and squash the clove again with the spoon. Put the garlic into a bowl.
3. Add ground cumin, ground coriander and harissa paste.
4. Using scissors, cut the parsley into small pieces and add to the bowl. Using your hands, squash everything together until it’s all mixed.
5. Divide the mixture into 8 equal pieces, and shape each into a burger shape. Dip the falafel into the flour, put the falafel onto the tray, and brush the top of each one with oil. Using oven gloves, put the tray into the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Eat with salsa, rice or bread and salad.
Pink melon lollies
Taking the seeds out of the watermelon may take you a little time, but it’s worth the effort for these lollies. This is a great recipe for practising grating and measuring with spoons.
Makes: about 8, depending on the size of your lolly moulds
Takes about 30 minutes to make, and a few hours to freeze (or overnight)
Jobs for your child
You can get the full pink melon lollies recipe here.
1. Put the watermelon into a big bowl, then pick the little brown seeds out of the fruit. Put the seeds in another bowl.
2. Measure the sugar and add to the watermelon. Measure the lime juice and add to the watermelon – you will need to squeeze the lime halves really hard to squeeze out the juice.
3. Using the smallest teeth on the grater, grate the ginger. Then add the grated ginger to the watermelon.
4. Using a potato masher, mash the watermelon until it’s really mashed up, almost like a juice.
5. Spoon the lolly mixture into lolly moulds, add lolly sticks and freeze. If you want to, dip your lollies into popping candy just before eating them.
If you don’t have a blender, mash everything together with a potato masher. You will need to mash it really hard.
Measuring with spoons
The recipes will either say ‘tablespoon’, which is a big spoon, or ‘teaspoon’, which is a small spoon. Make sure that you use the right spoon when you’re measuring ingredients.
How to grate
Hold the handle of the grater with one hand and then push the food downwards over the grater ‘teeth’. Always keep your fingers away from the teeth, as they’re very sharp.
Cutting with scissors
Always make sure that your fingers stay away from the scissors so that you don’t cut them accidentally.
When you have a large mixture, you may need to divide it up into small amounts before you cook it. For example, for the falafel mixture, cut the mixture into two equal pieces (halves), then cut each half into four equal pieces (quarters) to make eight even-sized portions.
How to peel
Hold the food in one hand and the peeler in another, then press it onto the fruit or vegetable and push away from you. It’s a good idea to practise peeling veg with different peelers to see which you find the easiest – there are lots of different kinds and some are easier than others.