When the school gates shut, it can be hard to work out how to keep all that young energy channeled. Go gourmet and encourage children to join you in the kitchen to cook up some magic and learn some key skills along the way.
We’re strong advocates of teaching cookery skills from a young age, but beyond learning the way around an onion, there are lots for simple skills kids can help with that can then be applied to day to day life. We’ve picked ten simple cooking projects to work on with kids, all of which will help instill an everyday skill while providing a few hours of fun.
10 things to do in the kitchen this half term…
Keep maths skills on course
Any recipe that involves dividing a batch into balls, buns or portions is a way of incorporating mathematics into cooking. Making, counting and dividing, for instance, mincemeat into meatballs allows you to discuss the splitting process, especially if you ask questions as you go. They’ll be so blissfully knee-deep in beef they’ll barely notice the education factor.
Create thrifty packed lunches for days out
While on the hoof, it can be tempting to cave into buying expensive, and sometimes unhealthy, meals or snacks – especially when you factor in pester power. Avoid the situation by creating a tasty packed lunch before you go out, but involve your kids in the selection process. Dishes like roasted chicken legs, homemade pasties or samosas and tasty rice salads are all child-friendly choices. If you have a picky eater on your hands, lay out ingredients for pasta salad and let them assemble their own in an individual pot, which is a good way to introduce them to the idea of portion control and flavour matching.
Open your own jewellers for the day
Who needs diamonds when you can string fruit laces around your neck? We might not be talking the next movement in fashion, but edible necklaces are fun to create and can be delicious, although if you really want to let creative freedom run riot, you may end up with some strange flavour combinations. Use liquorice strings or fruit laces and string with one or several of the following: Hooped cereal, pierced popcorn, grapes, mini marshmallows, gummy bears or dried apricots.
Throw a pizza party
Kids generally like pizza. They also tend to like parties, so combine the two and you’re heading for a gold star or ten. Throwing a pizza party for kids is super-easy as dough can be divided into individual portions and toppings laid out in bowls. There’s also a chance to weave in some kitchen skills – encourage little ones to knead and roll out their own base, and ask them to help with sauce-making and spooning it onto the base.
Encourage 5-a-day in a fun way
Get those little cogs whirring by creating a fun fruit memory game. Lay out an assortment of fruit like strawberries, banana slices, apricots, berries, grapes or cherry tomatoes then hide a portion of each under paper cups. Make a note of the fruits used, shuffle around the cups then guess which ones are hiding the matching fruit, working down the list and eating the fruits when the answer is correct.
Experiment with new flavours
Children are perhaps more likely to try something new if they’ve had a hand in creating the meal. So with time on your side, set aside a long session to make the family dinner, involving kids at each stage, from explaining ingredients to plating up. Use it as an opportunity to talk through more unusual flavours, like spices, deeply savoury ingredients and unfamiliar additions.
Try pastry art
Once a block of shop-bought pastry has been rolled flat into a thin layer, it has almost paper-like potential for sparking some mini Monet action. Long strips can be twisted into straws, interesting pockets and parcels can be created around filling, and strands can be threaded into one big plait.
Roast a chicken…
The beauty of roast chicken is in its simplicity – minimum effort, maximum gain. But there are ways of making the process into a family cooking project. Children can help prepare vegetables to pile around the chicken, then test the chicken is cooked, help create a sauce and watch how the bird is carved. It’s also a good way for them to get their heads around how an oven works, including how hot it can get.
… Then use the leftovers
Buy an extra-large chicken – or pick up two smaller ones – and save any extra meat for meals during the half term week, meaning you’ll always have a speedy meal on hand. Try five-minute wraps, 15-minute egg-fried rice or snappy Mexican tortilla snacks.
You don’t need to be Heston Blumenthal to introduce science into the kitchen. Making bread is an ideal way to explain to children how yeast is activated – shake in a sachet and watch your dough grow. If you really want to ramp up the wonderment, try making an instant ice cream, which uses a secret ingredient to guarantee super-cool results in a flash...