The days of summer are wonderfully long, but with still weeks of summer holidays left, you may be looking around and starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for fun ideas to keep your little one entertained.
On those days where it’s too hot to go anywhere, one thing I like to do is turn on a fan and seek some respite in my kitchen. I always have a very willing participant in my three-year-old son who, bless him, seems to get more enthused about putting on an apron than he does about a trip to the toy store. I’m not sure if it’s the mess, the food, or the sense of wonderment when that wet brown batter turns out to be a beautifully risen chocolate cake, but he just adores trying his hand at cooking.
If you’d like to get your own kids busy and involved in the kitchen, here are four of my top tips.
Choose the recipe wisely
As a starting point, choose a recipe that fits your child’s skill levels. A preschooler will get a buzz from folding his own wontons, while an activity better suited to a toddler would be picking up the fruit and putting it in the blender for a frappé, under your watchful eye.
If your child is too young to manage any cooking tasks, bring him into the kitchen even so. Just watching you cook or banging the pots and pans is great fun for a little one.
Watch the wait
Try to choose a dish that’s age-appropriate in terms of waiting times. My little boy now has the patience to wait for the iceblocks to freeze and the jelly to set, but when he was a baby I’d choose something he could get instant gratification from, such as a fruit salad.
Give your child free reign
Rather than trying to control your child’s efforts, let him have his own (safe) kitchen tools and his own ingredients – ones you don’t mind if he ruins. The other day my son and I made puff-pastry tarts. I gave him his own puff pastry and some cutters and he was beside himself with excitement.
He watched as I made my neat, perfect ones and then happily went about trying to recreate them himself. Because mine had made it safely to the oven and it didn’t matter how his turned out, I didn’t feel the need to interfere with his creations.
Manage your own expectations
Start out by assuming that the dish you’re making won’t look exactly like the picture. It just makes it that bit easier when that happens, as it’s bound to from time to time when you’re cooking with a child! It also means you’ll both be pleasantly surprised when it does turn out perfectly.
Although it can be a long process in which patience is key, involving your child in cooking eventually pays dividends, as sending him out into the world knowing how to cook is one of the best lifelong gifts you can give him.
So, turn on the aircon and beat the heat by whipping up some iceblocks with your budding sous chef. Yes, there’ll be mess, but hopefully the grins will make it worthwhile.