Nadiya Hussain: Cooking for independence

Whether they prefer chopping veg or helping with the washing-up, starting early is the key to giving kids confidence in the kitchen, says our star columnist.

Pair of kid's and parent's hand rolling out dough

When I was nine, I started to cook – mostly helping around the kitchen, but I was confident with a sharp chef’s knife, and knew where everything went when it was washed.

Because of this, having the kids in the kitchen with me feels natural. They’ve been helping me from the moment they could sit up; chopping in a high chair; kneading sat on the worktop; or mixing cake batter in a bowl on the floor. One of the first things we ever made together, before my little girl was born, was rocky road. They measured, mixed and licked the bowl, but stayed away from the oven – they had to have something to work up to.

I’ve always had only one rule in our kitchen: there are no rules. It’s our home, and we all need to eat and live, so let’s all muck in. If that sounds idyllic, I fear you have an image of three saintly kids gracefully prancing across the kitchen, effortlessly going from one task to the next. The reality is quite the opposite. Things can get heated – arguments about who’s unloading the dishwasher, who wants to stir and who wants to be someplace else entirely. Oh yes, that’s us. But that’s all a part of the learning.

The kids all have their favourite tasks. My eldest likes the actual cooking, his brother likes to do the dishes (and goes in for an occasional stir) and my little girl likes to spray and wipe everything down. But through simply being in the kitchen and treating it like any other room, they’ve become more and more comfortable.

Kid making sandwich

My eldest can now cook something up, and he always deploys his little helpers. The younger two are getting more and more confident with using sharp utensils and being creative too. Now we give the children free rein to cook what they want for dinner on Fridays. They make their own sandwiches for lunch and devise their own menus for dinner.

We used to have a chart to allocate chores, but that caused more problems than it was worth. Now nothing is allocated – it just needs doing. Recently I did get a ‘Mummy, my friend gets paid to do his chores’. I replied, ‘If I pay you for chores, who pays mummy for chores?’, which put an end to that discussion.

Of course, we’ve had a few cut fingers along the way, but that is part and parcel of being in the kitchen. Overall, cooking has helped to build their confidence and make the kitchen a much less scary place. Being able to do what adults do gives children the independence they crave. Giving them that independence reassures me that they’re a little bit closer to being ready for the big wide world out there. 

Two kids baking with mum


Top tips to introduce your kids to the kitchen

  • Being active in the kitchen doesn’t have to mean cooking. One of my kids doesn’t always like cooking, so I ask him to do the dishes – kids love playing with water. Start small, like setting the table, emptying the dishwasher or putting away the shopping.
  • Get children to serve themselves at mealtimes. This is an easy task that nevertheless helps to make them feel much more grown-up. Their confidence will sky rocket.
  • Ask the kids to make a meal every few weeks – the simpler the better to begin with. They will naturally want to venture out and try something new eventually. Even if they make you the same meal every time, they’re still gaining experience and confidence.

Read more articles by Nadiya...

We can make our children healthier
How to get kids to eat their greens
How I eat on a budget
Why I asked my family to be vegan
Kids and restaurants can mix

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