We have been cooking, growing and tasting with our nursery and reception children for two years now. A myth that we come up against time and time again is that the youngest children should only be allowed to make the simplest recipes. Most often, this results in children making cakes and biscuits. Teachers do all of the exciting parts – cracking the eggs and handling the cake tin before it goes in the oven. And the children merely stir and sprinkling sugar on top. This idea seems to be based on a mixture of safety concerns, tradition, children of this age not being far enough along in their development to have the skills required and generally low expectations of three- and four-year-olds.
Well, let us allay some of those concerns! There is no reason why young children shouldn’t be making meat dishes, handling seafood or eggs, using knives, scissors, graters and heat. Dishes that can really prepare them to eat healthily in the future. They just need adequate supervision and a bit of planning to make sure everything is going to run (relatively) smoothly
Here are our top tips for cooking with Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS):
- Don’t be afraid.
- Stick with small groups and, if in doubt, work with one or two children at a time.
- Knives are scary to start with, but children tend to be careful with them. Teach them respect for sharp things, hot things and raw food. Yes, minor cuts can happen when using knives and graters, but cuts and bruises happen out in the garden and on the climbing equipment too – it is part of learning to take a risk. Have a first aid kit handy and you probably won’t need it!
- Pick something you actually like to eat to make with the children. They will pick up on your love of the dish.
- Complicated recipes are great because lots of children can help with different stages and tell each other about their role. Don’t feel you need to complete everything in one session or even on one day. Work through a recipe in stages. Fridges were surely invented for cooking with little ones!
- Cooking with young children hits almost every key area of learning within the Early Years Foundation Stage: from listening to moving and handling, understanding the world and people, technology, number, measures. The more complex the recipe, the more vocabulary they learn. They develop their motor skills, measuring, discussion, and a greater sense of curiosity and wonder!
- Don’t worry if the recipe doesn’t turn out perfectly. The youngest children are the most forgiving. Burnt cake? Forgotten vital ingredient? Soggy bottom? They don’t mind, they are along for the ride and bounce back faster than an overcooked octopus.
- Parents aren’t going to be upset. Parents of young children are used to paint, dough, sand, slime, mud and other unidentifiable matter on school uniforms. A bit of tomato purée on the sleeve isn’t going to faze mums and dads. Most importantly, it can make children more open-minded eaters at home. Children want to eat food they’ve cooked. It’s exciting and an adventure they want to go on. Especially if they grow the ingredients before that! After the whole class has munched on healthy, freshly cooked food, and the children go home and want to eat something green – you’ll be a hero!
By teaching children to cook healthy meals, you are doing something wonderful – you’re inspiring a generation to be confident and experimental in the kitchen! Be a culinary wizard, sniff the spices, taste the vegetables and throw away the recipe sheet once in a while. They will love you for it. Remember, if they only ever see adults being confident when baking cakes, they will stick to that forever.
Finally, whatever little disasters happen in the classroom, I bet that we have done worse! Follow us on Twitter and we promise to show you the burnt pans as well as the scrummy dishes, and we can all laugh together!