We all know that eating is one of our national pastimes here in Singapore, so it’s only natural that our kids quickly turn into little foodies too. Beyond the sheer enjoyment of sharing a good family meal, feeding and nourishing our children well is on every parent’s mind. From the moment those little ones are conceived, right until they leave home for college, we are thinking about their next meal!
As parents, our responsibility doesn’t begin and end with stepping into the kitchen to whip up the next nutritious and delicious meal, it also includes involving our children in the process – from telling them where their food comes from to teaching them cooking basics in the home kitchen, taking them grocery shopping, and getting creative – the ways to engage and educate are plenty!
I teach cooking classes to children ages five-10 and I’m always amazed at how curious, excited and fulfilled my little students are. While my students vary in knowledge and expertise in the kitchen, they are equally keen to learn about spices, always eager to sprinkle, mix, stir and chop! And, of course, the end result is always a joyful and proud moment for all.
Here’s how to get your little one to channel their inner chef:
1. Start small
My four-year-old would much rather be running around at the speed of light than focused on a single-minded task in the kitchen, but every so often (since he was about 18 months old, actually) I invite him into the kitchen to mix, stir, sprinkle and smell. In the end, I make him feel like a culinary genius, no matter how minimal his involvement was. I firmly believe that just being in the kitchen gives him a sense of understanding and appreciation for all the hard work that goes into making the food he enjoys. As he is getting older, he is beginning to ask if he can watch or help, so I prop him on the counter and let him!
2. Engage the senses
Cooking is all about touch, taste, smell, sight and even sound! From the aromas that often draw little ones into the kitchen (mommy are you baking cookies?) to the shrill whistle of the pressure cooker, to seeing all the colourful ingredients and spices, touching different textures like dough, uncooked pasta or counting beans – it’s ultimately about having fun together! When I teach kids, I ask them if they can hear the soup sing – and of course they giggle, but cooking need not be limited to a serious task of following a recipe.
3. Make it real
While I adore play kitchens and toy kitchenware, the sooner you expose little ones to the real thing, the better. Removing fear from the process is key and giving children the confidence to participate early on is critical. This is a big part of the work we do in our cooking classes – removing any barriers or hesitations and making each child feel fully capable. Of course, you’ll know when your child is ready, but giving them real fruit and veg to play with, purchasing a kid-safe bread knife for chopping, getting them to grate their own cheese, make their own popsicles, or top their own pizza are all great ways to get them involved and have fun. Expose them to cookbooks early on and teach them how to follow a recipe. I always let my older students take turns to read the recipe steps and it makes them feel empowered, helpful and confident.
4. Creative cooking
Children always amaze me with their food-related ideas! Older children can have fun plating the food in creative ways. Let kids go wild with cookie cutters. Take pictures of their work and document it in a book… trust me, every budding chef wants their own cookbook pretty early in the game!
5. Talk to them about the what and why
For my little guy, a pea was always a ball, broccoli is what makes the Incredible Hulk green and chicken gives him muscles (now he knows it’s because of protein). Speaking with children about ingredients and their nutritional benefits opens their eyes to why it’s good for them. This strategy has worked well with my son, who like every child has had his veg-resisting days – but now he happily crunches on carrots knowing they are good for his eyes, salmon is great for brain power (borrowed some Batman language there) and that turmeric heals him, especially when he has a cough and cold (which is when we make ‘Get Well Soon’ turmeric soup). Use your own stories to create an environment of learning and growth around food and nutrition.
The sneaky sixth step:
Send them to a cooking class designed especially for children
Join one of my children’s Magic Spice Box cooking classes for a fun way to fire-up their love of cooking! Small cooks aged five to 10 years will be taught how to spice up their dishes when they discover cool recipes (anybody for Pirate Jimmy’s Peppery Patties?) through the wonder of storytelling. Fun, informative classes are taught one Saturday per month for little people (there’s a class coming up soon!), and I run lessons for grown-ups too.
The Magic Spicebox, Pasarbella at the Grand Stand, 200 Turf Club Road, Singapore 287994, e. firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out more great cooking classes in Singapore for kids in this nifty little guide we’ve put together!