The good, the bad and the ugly of cooking with kids

Pros and cons of involving your children in actual cooking activities

One day I walked into the kitchen after a day in the office to see my deep burgundy upholstered chairs and a brand new wooden dining table literally covered in flour. I don’t need to mention the state of the high pile run underneath. I was speechless - and that doesn’t happen very often, trust me. I think that our Au pair (a lovely, caring and clearly creative girl) saw the sheer terror in my eyes and just whispered: “I am sorry. We were making a cake with boys.” My boys, at the time 2.5 year old Vito and 4.5 year old Kai, were sitting on a kitchen top, mixing the said cake, getting it ready to put into the muffin tin. They were covered with flour from heads to toes, and they were beaming with joy :)

When I took their clothes off later and shook them up, I created a flour cloud in the garden. But they were so happy. They felt accomplished when the muffins already ended up in the oven. And they were extremely proud when they could later serve their creation for all of us to taste.

I must admit, that beside the rice experiment when almost 3 kg of rice ended up on my kitchen floor creating a rice swimming pool, the muffin making experience was them most drastic and vivid example of the ugly side to cooking with kids. It took us hours to get rid of that flour from all the corners of the kitchen.

Do I ever want them to make a mess like this again? No. Do I want them to learn how to cook and enjoy the process? Hell yeah! 

7 benefits of cooking with kids

Beside acquiring life long skills so early on, there are tonnes of benefits of engaging your kids in cooking activities.

It has long been recognised in early years curriculum around the world. Montessori nurseries and forward thinking schools are investing in cooking facilities and teacher training. Countless scholar articles, blogs and professional analyses have been written to outline the benefits of exposing young people to cooking. Some of those, directly observed by me with my two boys include:

Benefit 1: Improving motor skills

Us grown ups don’t really appreciate how difficult it is for a small person to hold a small teaspoon, fill it with powder like substance, i.e. salt or flour or sugar, and transfer it over the 10 cm distance from the pot to the mixing bowl. It takes precision, it takes balancing, eye-hand coordination, and patience.

Cutting fruit and vegetables (always under close supervision of course) - understanding where to position the fingers of one hand, how to hold a knife, how hard it needs to be pressed, what motion is required to actually separate the pieces, how different it is to cut a banana vs. ball pepper and so on. (This little boy chopping so nicely is my 3-year old son Vito - isn't he good?!)

Breaking the egg is also a minor activity for us, but for a 2 year old, or even 4-5 year old, breaking and opening the egg, learning how much strength needs to go in cracking of the shell, splitting it in half, and dropping the egg whilst keeping all the shells out. (Well that last bit almost never happens - there is no doubt that someone will end up crashing a piece of an egg shell in that morning pancake - I guess we could classify this in the “BAD” category).

Mixing all the ingredients together - that takes some serious effort from a little kid! If it is a runny pancake mix, it is kind of easy, but let them try to mix muffin mix, and there you will see how quickly their arm gives way.

Benefit 2: Developing advanced sense of smell and taste

Try incorporating distinctive flavored spices and ingredients

Let your kids experience day to day ingredients, as fresh as you can. 

It will keep kids engaged when using their favorites!

Oh, that can be a very funny one! You can get one over them here ;-) When you engage kids enough, they become little explorers themselves; they want to taste and smell absolutely anything! And apart from the fact that it is building their openness to trying different foods easily, it can give you as a parent or carer so much fun at their expense. I am sure most little kids have already tasted a lemon and millions of funny videos are in the space to prove it, but try to give them some garlic to taste, or an onion, or some real cocoa, or raw cauliflower. Their facial expressions are priceless.

Smelling fresh vegetables can also be a very interesting experience. I tried with leek, all spice, cinnamon stick, vanilla extract, melting butter, melting chocolate, cooking garlic with onions - options of exploration are endless.

Benefit 3: Sensory development

Allowing children to touch the food, raw, cooked, ready or not, all sorts of ingredients that come into the dish can be a mind blowing experience for them. How often do you allow yourself to “play” with food? Well, try. See for yourself as most likely you don’t remember it too well from your early years. Put your hand in the yogurt, mix the meat with your hands, squeeze that mince beef through your fingers, break the egg with your fingers, pick up freshly cooked pasta. That’s life!

On a more serious note though, for children sensory play is one of the most pleasant and satisfying experiences. There are whole playgroups dedicated to sensory play alone! Experiencing different textures, temperature, consistencies provides some serious benefits:

  • Sensory play builds nerve connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways, which trigger a child’s inclination for and ability in competing more complex learning tasks

  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction

  • Sensory play aids in developing and enhancing memory functioning

  • Sensory play is great for calming an anxious or frustrated child

  • Sensory play helps children learn vitally important sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, dry, etc.)

But don’t get me wrong, it can easily turn into the very bad, or even ugly experience when they end up with a pot of yogurt on their head or when the curious hands mix that cake just a bit too vigorously and it all lands on the kitchen top and the floor, not even mentioning your own clothes.

Benefit 4: Math

Oh! The whole blog could be written just about that! How amazing for math skills development is cooking. Weighing, measuring, counting, understanding of size and relation of objects (big, smaller, smallest), understanding of an order (first, second, third), understanding of shape (round, square, rectangle, 3D), understanding of measuring scales (grams, kilograms, milliliters, liters and so on).

Step 1

Count 3 spoons of flour and put into the mixing bowl. Add 2 eggs.

Step 2

Measure 1 glass of milk, half a spoon of oil and 2 large spoons of yogurt.

Step 3

Pick 3 large apples, peel the skin, grate and mix for the best pancakes.

Benefit 5: Science, biology, geography, physics

Kids don’t even know that they are learning some of the basic vital skills, physics laws and relations, but trust me, it will pay off at school later on!

Benefit 6: Language skills

All that cooking, exploring, tasting, mixing and spilling gives you a great chance to practice language skills with your kids. Asking them to explain how different things feel, how they taste, what they like about certain ingredients, why, what do they like the most when cooking, what do they like to eat the most - the list is endless.

Benefit 7: Gain nutrition awareness

Awareness of good vs. not so good foods and how it all works. Let’s not kid ourselves, most of our kids love sweets, chips, crisps, donuts! But having the opportunity to explain to them the importance of the right balance across your food and why it is good to eat broccoli, spinach and green beans is precious. When you engage them in preparing the healthy and well balanced food, they will be super excited to eat their creation, even if they don’t immediately fall in love with the flavour. But the fact that they are open to tasting, smelling and trying different things, makes introducing new food and new flavours a pleasant and exciting experience.

This blog definitely evolved into the good, the very good and the excellent of cooking with kids! It does seem that my passion for both the cooking and feeding my kiddos in a healthy, fun, balanced and creative way is shining through this post. Even though my initial idea was to go on about how messy, crazy, long, frustrating it can be to cook with kids, I converted myself into the “cook with the kids” preacher. KID-bay parties is a result of that passion - sharing it out with the world whilst incorporating my hobby of throwing parties. I like that combination. And most importantly our clients do too!

Oh wait! The bond!

Wait a second! I haven’t mentioned the best part of it all - the bond. From the child’s perspective, it has all been super-fun! They got messy, they cooked, they tasted, they broke, they mixed, they spilled, they poured, they baked. And you were there allowing them to do it. You were the cool guy/girl, the cool mum/dad/grandma/grandpa/nanny. You shared an important learning experience with them whilst they were actually having an amazing time! Do it whenever you have time, encourage them to join and allow them to explore. It pays off.

Mum's bond with kids

KID-bay Parties

KID-bay Parties was born of the passion for cooking and frustration that parties that our children and we attend, often have a lot to wish for when it comes to the quality of food. 

We are making sure that all our parties are catered for with the best quality home made food, prepared from fresh ingredients, perfect for kids and grown ups.

We cater for kids, grown ups, teens - all parties can enjoy our lunch boxes, hot & cold buffet or out of this world BBQ. 

Justyna Nowicka
A mum of two gorgeous boys, entrepreneur, caterer, passionate about cooking and parenting.

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