Cooking with kids: Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton on how to involve your children in the kitchen
Published on: 25 January 2022 Author: David Atherton
Food writer and presenter David Atherton tells families why teaching their child to cook and bake is a gift that will return to them tenfold – and here’s how to get started.
Kids love being in the kitchen, and it really is the best place to be when growing up. There are not many skills you can teach your kids that will better prepare them for life than cooking, baking, and being comfortable in the kitchen.
My First Green Cook Book encourages all kids and adults to have fun in the kitchen while eating more plant-based food and thinking more about what they eat.
Make the kitchen a happy place
I have friends who love spending time in the kitchen but do not have the patience to cook with their children. They often micromanage their every move, control the process, or take over and only give the child small, manageable tasks. Kids need the space to test boundaries, experiment, be creative, and learn, all while having fun.
I had a very happy childhood, and lots of this revolved around cooking up a storm in the kitchen. My mum spent hours in the kitchen; she had five kids and made all our meals from scratch (and even baked fresh bread for our whole family every week). She encouraged us to join her in the kitchen and help with the cooking and baking tasks; however, she didn’t force us. The kitchen was a buzz of activity and a happy place we wanted to be.
It’s not always easy to watch a child grate a carrot, attend a hot saucepan, or crack an egg (shell and all) into a bowl, but this is the time they learn, and they learn fast.
I’ve seen 3-year-olds perfectly crack an egg, and I’ve also witnessed friends in their 30s who still struggle. Baking with a child will be messy and chaotic, but if you give them the space, they will learn fast, and, in no time, they’ll be making you dinner and serving you afternoon tea.
Healthy but amazing food the whole family can eat
Tastes and food behaviours start very young, and introducing healthy foods to a child can be a precursor for adult health and wellbeing. My First Green Cook Book is jam-packed with recipes that are good for you, but also, importantly, taste amazing.
I have lost count of the number of times a parent tells me their child will not eat a specific food; however, on spending time as a sous-chef to their child, creating a dish with the said abhorred ingredient, I’ve witnessed their child wolf down the results. Getting a child to make their food is the best way to get them to try new or previously disliked ingredients.
The recipes in My First Green Cook Book are designed to be robust so that kids can make mistakes, experiment with flavours, and still get a decent dish or bake at the end of the day. They are designed for kids to be in charge but guided through the process. The recipes are not kids’ recipes, and lots of the recipes in the book I make myself every week (especially the magic tomato sauce). I think it is important for kids to learn how to cook food and not simply bake sweet treats.
From the outset, it was important to me to have an illustrated cookbook. We’ve all been intimidated by the perfectly styled food photography in most cookbooks. The magnificent dishes are impossible to replicate, mainly because they are not even real (believe me, I’ve been on location at photoshoots, and all the stories you hear are true). When baking with kids, you definitely don’t need the pressure of a child waiting for the cake to look exactly like the photograph. Illustrations offer guidance, but however your final dish looks, you’ve succeeded. Having the step-by-step and illustrated ingredients lists is also important, so that kids can feel empowered to follow the recipes even if they can’t read.
Teaching a child how to cook and bake is a gift, and allowing them to learn and giving them space to make mistakes is vital. At the end of the day, when you’re tucking into a slice of cake after an afternoon full of fun, everyone is a winner.