The low table and cooking with children

A smallish wooden table had been left in the kitchen when we moved in. It was too small to eat round and too big to use anywhere useful. It needed to be moved as we put an Ikea play kitchen in its space after Christmas. Instead of throwing it away we put it in the middle of the kitchen and my husband sawed the legs down so it was perfect child height.

Three children all trying to prepare food and cook at the worktops wasn’t working. There isn’t enough space and they can’t reach making them jostle for the steps or the tower. This way all of them can stand round the table and prepare food, experiment and help me cook with enough space. It has been a big hit and whilst it isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, it serves a very useful purpose in aiding their independence and exposure to preparing meals and food.

As I’ve mentioned before, we have always encouraged our children to experience food and meal preparation first hand. This has paid off as they are fantastic eaters with a broad knowledge of food and its origin and the eldest (4) is devising his own family meals, preparing them and cooking them himself (with adequate supervision).

Whilst I don’t suggest cutting down furniture, creating a child level space in a kitchen or providing a means to safely reach the worktops, is important in creating a prepared environment so children feel they can fully participate in the cooking experience. The benefits are huge and sets them up to be more appreciative of the effort that goes into making meals, knowledgeable about food and where it comes from and independent.

I will admit that cooking with children isn’t always easy. It can be very frustrating when the flour goes everywhere and the eggs crack on the floor. When they pour too much in or start eating raw bread dough by the fistfuls. I think, as adults, we often focus too much on the perfect end result. The level cake, the risen bread, the edible pudding and we forget that the process is as important if not more so. There have been times though when the children have been genuinely upset when the biscuits didn’t work or the cake had too much bicarb in it fizzed. So the end result does need to be something that can be enjoyed too. The best way , I have found for this age group is to measure everything out yourself first. Place each ingredient into its own bowl and put everything including mixing bowl and spoon (or whatever equipment is needed) onto a tray for each child. This means either having double the ingredients or halving the recipe, whatever works best. I then read through the method with them or let them get on with it, again whatever works best.

This, for me, is the least stressful way of getting them to take ownership of the dish and be independent. I don’t worry about the outcome, everything is weighed. They don’t have to share mixing (someone always takes longer with the spoon, right?), they can go at their own pace.

Of course one could argue that they do not experience measuring ingredients or sharing the task but I would say that they are not ready for that anyway. My eldest doesn’t have a good enough grasp of large numbers yet so saying “weigh out 350 grams” would be useless. They get too frustrated taking turns and sharing when they want to do it all and take ownership of the whole process.

Also, biggest bonus, you get to lick your own bowl…

So there are some tips to getting children more involved in the kitchen and creating a love of food.

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