Tips and tricks to get your kids cooking in the kitchen

Children’s cookery duo says ‘if they can bring home artwork they can cook’, writes Xanthe Clay

With a bit of help, little ones as young as two can help prepare meals, say two TV experts
With a bit of help, little ones as young as two can help prepare meals, say two TV experts
Image: Andrew Crowley

Reckon a six-year-old could knock up a Moroccan fish ball tagine? Or assemble a spiced vegetarian moussaka?

Yes, they can, say children’s cookery experts Sally Brown and Kate Morris. In fact, children as young as two can help prepare a meal.

“Of course they need help – but if they can bring home artwork they can cook,” the pair told me.

And while sharp knives may be out, even the tiniest fingers can contribute to the meal preparations, whether it is tearing mushrooms into chunks to add to a casserole, or squishing tinned tomatoes for a sauce.

Morris and Brown have devised, along with children’s television specialist Terrific Television, My World Kitchen, a 10-minute show on CBeebies aimed at getting six-and-unders cooking.

Each episode of the show features a different child, aged between six and eight, presenting and demonstrating how to cook a dish.

The pleasure and reward they get from sharing it is immense, and a boost to their self-worth
Kate Morris

There’s minimal adult intervention, bar a bellowed “Muuuuum” when something needs putting in the oven; no cupcakes, either – as well as the tagine and moussaka, dishes include a vegetarian haggis, a Bakewell tart and West African jollof rice.

The pair have plenty of experience in getting children into the kitchen.
Before working in television, Morris and Brown, who were also behind the successful I Can Cook series, had a children’s cookery school, Purple Kitchen – first in the UK to run proper courses for under-fives.

Now their focus is on the television work, and Morris still teaches food technology in schools.

But to see how their methods work in action, I joined in while some of their former pupils prepared supper in Morris’s Buckinghamshire kitchen.

When Morris dashed in from school, explaining “we’ve been exploding vinegar and bicarb to learn about baking agents”, Brown was already keeping an eye on five-year-old Freya and her friend Olivia, aged six.

Not that they seemed to need much help, standing at low tables, confidently painting tortillas with paprika and oil before cutting them up with scissors to bake for crisp tortilla chips.

That table height matters, Brown explained.

“They have to be on top of what they are doing, and they have to be standing up so they can put their weight into it.

“A lot of people make the kids sit down. I don’t cook sitting down, do you?”
Time to make salsa.

Freya chops cherry tomatoes with the scissors in a cup, squealing, “The juice is going to squirt out? In my eye!” “Like tasty water balloons”, agreed Brown, helping Olivia cut an avocado with a table knife around its girth (easier than lengthways). “Now do the twist – wiggle your bottom!”

Olivia twisted apart the avocado and scooped out the flesh with a spoon, while Freya cut the hairy end off spring onions with round-tipped scissors and snipped the rest into chunks that scattered over the table and floor, as well as into the bowl, though no one seemed to mind.

“You’ve got a tomato pip on your nose!” giggled Olivia.
Meanwhile, James and Louis (seven and eight) have been making a peach tart, rolling pastry, scoring a picture frame around the edge, and scattering over ground almonds.

“Why do we do that?” asked Morris. “To soak up the juices!” chorused the boys, carefully laying slices of peach inside the frame, “like a puzzle”, explained James.

Fruit, vegetables – it all seems like a nutritionist’s dream. But what about picky children?

Parents don’t always help, Morris has observed during classes.

“We’d find they would say to their children “You won’t like that”.
The child would “freeze, stop engaging”. Brown added: “It is OK not to like things – it’s important that children’s opinions are taken into account.”

Morris agreed: “They may become anxious about all food if they are forced to eat foods they don’t like.

“But you can suggest they try it.”

In the end, even if they don’t eat the food they cook, “the pleasure and reward they get from sharing it is immense, and a boost to their self-worth.”

Jo Ward, mother of 12-year-old Andrew, agrees.

Andrew is a quiet boy, carefully assembling fish parcels.

He has, Jo explained, dyspraxia, dyslexia and is on the autistic spectrum, but has grown into a competent cook under Brown and Morris’s tutelage.

“I asked him what the best thing about cooking is and he said ‘seeing your face when you eat it’. It’s been wonderful for him, something he can do and feel proud of.”

As Charlie, 9, bundles up fish and veg parcels, Andrew confidently shows us how to prepare vegetables.

Brown produced the tortilla chips from the oven, puffed and crisp, and the children dived in hungrily.

This, of course, is another good thing about cooking, explained Andrew.

“You can be creative with flavours and you get to eat what you make.” – The Telegraph

Keep little fingers safe from harm

Try these tips from Sally Brown and Kate Morris to get your child actively engaged in the kitchen:

  • Be a good a role model: put on an apron and wash your hands before you start.
  • Invest in a pair of metal-bladed nursery scissors (about 10-12cm) and dedicate them to food use only. Chop fresh herbs by putting them in a cup and letting them snip away.
  • Instead of onions, use spring onions that children can “chop” using scissors.
  • Give your child some pastry and encourage them to use their body weight to help roll it out.
  • Keep toy equipment for play, and use appropriate, real tools in the kitchen. For example, a rotary grater, which is a safer alternative to a box grater.
  • Table knives are safe for children and will work for many fruit and veg. Start with soft fruit and graduate to harder stuff once they can manage the bridge technique confidently: look on YouTube for tutorials on bridge cutting.

  • Once they have nailed cutting safely with a table knife, they should be able to use a kitchen knife with care.

If your child can ...

Don’t hesitate to let kids help with preparations
Don’t hesitate to let kids help with preparations
Image: 123RF.COM
  • Hold a paintbrush, they can grease a baking tin with melted butter or oil;
  • Hold a spoon, they can measure dry ingredients;
  • Stir with a spoon, they can beat an egg;
  • Hold a fork, they can prick pastry;
  • Hold a knife, they can score pastry;
  • Cut with a knife, they can cut pastry or soft fruit and vegetables.