The subjects that are learned from cooking include maths, chemistry, physics, nutrition, geography, the natural world and history – what’s not to like!
Having fun and keeping safe is paramount. You learn far more when having fun at an activity and cooking really should not be a chore. Teaching about all aspects of food is one of the most important areas for skills that are taken into adulthood and independent living. Regardless of location there are some straightforward things to consider when you’re teaching children basic cooking skills. This may be in a school environment, at home, at Granny’s, Aunts, or at nursery, but the principles remain the same. Organisation is important – thinking through a plan for any recipe so that you have everything required by way of equipment and ingredients.
Whether you’re making dishes, producing food in the garden or making butter from cream, sprouting beans or making yogurt there are lots of things to do which are exciting to your children.
It’s good to start with hand washing with any food related activity. Before they get started they wash their hands with lots of soap and warm water. Other safety areas to discuss are dates on food, temperature control, storage, cleaning work surfaces after each food item/group, all are important and will give them ideas that will stay with them for life. These can be included as you go along.
Teaching the safe use of knives and using the appropriate knife for the appropriate task is fundamental. Usual methods involve the hand grip of the knife and using a guiding hand with curved fingers away from the cutting blade and always cutting away from the body. Specialist knives that are safe to use in little hands, or children with dexterity problems are available and give confidence to both adult and child. The vegetable peeler is a piece of equipment that can cause some damage, so always supervise the use of peelers to prevent inadvertent slicing of little fingers. Where there’s heat there’s the potential for scalding or burning. Ensure that oven gloves are used not tea towels that can slip, or not be very heat resistant. Do not leave a young child unsupervised when cooking or preparing food. So that’s the safety part organised!
Now for the fun…
Lots of seeds can be sprouted, they’re hugely nutritious – powerhouses of enzymes, vitamins and minerals and really tasty, varying from nutty to spicy flavour. Try broccoli, chickpeas, mung beans or quinoa – there’s a huge variety and may be purchased dried from supermarkets or health food stores You can add them to wraps, sandwiches, pasta or rice salads, whatever you fancy. Don’t invest in an expensive sprouter – you can pick one up for less than a fiver or recycle a glass jar. All you need to do is rinse and water seeds twice a day and once sprouted pop them in a container in the fridge and add to whatever takes your fancy. The longer you allow the bean sprouts to grow the less intense their flavour becomes. Refrigeration tends to stop OR SLOW growth. Get the kids to look after them; they are often enthusiastic to eat them having produced them!
Herbs on the windowsill
It’s really easy to make little pots that will, with a little encouragement, produce lots of herbs to cook with and add to wraps, salads and sandwiches. Mint chives basil and lemon balm are very easy to grow.
Purchasing an inexpensive yogurt maker can produce lovely yogurt which you then have the freedom to flavour the way you want to. There are many on the market and there’s no need to spend a lot. You just need to add a spoonful of live yogurt to warmed milk and wait for it to do its magic!
How to boil an egg…
Yes I know you’re capable of boiling an egg…. but this may be useful for children to follow. I know my daughter was teaching most of the students in her flat how to cook when she went to uni and yes, that included how to boil an egg and basic food safety!
A pan large enough for the number of eggs to move around freely in the water
A spoon to pop eggs in and out of pan
Egg cups and plate to serve
1 or two eggs per person.
Make sure the eggs are as fresh as possible Check the red Lion Mark “Best Before” date on the shell. If you have not purchased Lion eggs then you can check for freshness by placing in a bowl of water. If the egg lies on its side it’s fresh if it floats it’s stale. This is because the air space expands as the egg ages. Take the eggs out of the fridge 30 minutes before using for best results as they are less likely to crack when the shell is heated suddenly.
I like to ready prepare toast, buttered and cut into soldiers which can be kept warm and ready to serve.
Place the pan on the hob with the eggs, ensuring they are covered by the water. Heat the water until large busy bubbles are rising to the surface then reduce the heats that the bubbles are smaller and streaming. A quiet pan and gentle bubble stream is providing a gentle simmer, this is what we want. Once the simmer has started set your timer for the following results:
- 3 minutes dippy eggs (soft yolk) great for toasted soldiers
- 5 minutes set white, lightly set yolk
- 7 minutes hard boiled eggs
For hard boiled eggs avoid the grey ring around the yolk by cooling eggs quickly with their shells cracked under cold running water. The grey ring is the mineral iron content found in the yolk so it’s not a problem it just doesn’t look very pretty.
How easy is it to rustle up a lovely lunch or evening meal if you can make an omelette? Playing around with whatever fillings you have, or just cooking a plain one is very quick and satisfying.
Wooden, silicon, or other heatproof spoon
Warmed plate to serve
Allow 1 or 2 eggs per person
A few turns of pepper for seasoning
A little butter
Filling; may include cooked bacon pieces, chopped and cooked onion, sliced/diced cooked mushroom, grated cheese, chopped parsley, sautéed potatoes or anything else that comes to hand!
The filling will not cook in the omelette, but will be heated so some elements will need to be cooked first.
Beat eggs lightly with the pepper until broken up and the yolk is dispersed.
Melt a small knob of butter in an omelette pan with medium heat.
Watch and listen!
The butter will melt and sizzle and then the sizzle will stop.
At this point you need to quickly pour in the egg mixture. Stir with the heatproof spoon as if making scrambled egg.
Stop once the omelette is cooked underneath but still has some uncooked egg on the top surface.
Add any filling you wish at this stage to one half of the omelette.
Flip the side with no filling over the top of the filling and continue to cook over a gentle heat. You may wish to turn it over again to cook on the other side.
To check if the centre is cooked make a cut in the centre folded edge and check if the eggs are runny.
Note: Any filling you use should be cooked e.g. bacon, or require no cooking e.g. cheese or parsley. Parsley is a perfect flavour partner for eggs. Chop parsley, don’t tear or you may lose valuable Vitamin C.
Serve on the warmed plate. This may also be chilled and sliced for lunches.
Small bowl for beaten egg
Fork to whisk
Bowl for crumbs
Spoon for stirring
Chunky pieces of chicken, approx 5cm square
Fine oatmeal & wholemeal breadcrumbs, mixed
Mix oatmeal and wholemeal breadcrumbs together
Take each chunk of chicken dip into beaten egg and then quickly into the crumbs. I sometimes add spices to the crumb mixture for a spicy change.
Once they are all crumbed, lightly fry in manageable batches in a pan until golden. Place the nuggets onto a lightly oiled baking sheet so they don’t stick and cook in a hot oven 220ºC/200 fan/ Gas Mark 7 for approx 20 minutes until all the flesh is opaque white and cooked through. I thoroughly recommend using a probe thermometer to check temperatures of meat it does take the faff and guessing out of it. You can pick one up for about £12 and the temperature you’re looking for with chicken is 75ºC to ensure it’s thoroughly cooked. The nuggets are good served with a tomato sauce or chilli dipping sauce.
Here’s a tasty tomato sauce that goes well with chicken nuggets…
1 medium sized onion finely chopped
1 dessertspoon sunflower oil
1 pepper, any colour – chopped
1 tin plum peeled tomatoes chopped or whole
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
25g of butter
Gently cook onion and pepper in a saucepan until soft. Add all the other ingredients and cook for 15 minutes. This sauce is particularly good with meatballs, a pizza topping and pasta and of course the chicken nuggets above!
This is what I like to think of as “universal soup” as the method is the same whatever veg you put in.
There’s nothing like a bowl of home made soup and some crusty bread. I remember running a family cookery class a few years ago and a young mum could not get enthused about making a soup as she usually bought a can or packet. Once she’d made this with her choice of veg she was absolutely made up, describing it as “totally lush”. It made my day.
You can use veggies that have seen better days, but obviously the fresher the ingredients the better the flavour and the more nutritious the end product. Once the ingredients are cooked finish cooking. It will not benefit from boiling away for hours.
If you’re using organic vegetables there is no need to peel, but do think about the overall result. Peel potatoes if you plan to process it at all for a smooth or semi smooth finish as bits of potato skin drifting around could prove to be unpalatable!
Heavy bottomed pan (reduces risk of burning to the base)
Heat proof spoon
Onion (allow ½ per person)
Garlic – 2 or 3 cloves for however garlicky you would like it to be
Vegetable stock cube or homemade stock from chicken or vegetableAny vegetables (one or more) you fancy in any combination from the following list. Allow about 300g of vegetables per person.
- Any tasty vegetable in season, or even frozen vegetables such as peas or sweetcorn
Pepper to taste
Wash your chosen veggies.
Peel if necessary.
Remove any bits you don’t fancy eating (potato eyes for example).
Chop all vegetables. At this stage you need to think about your finished product. Do you want a super smooth soup, a rustic chunky soup, or something in-between? If you want a smooth or semi-smooth finish you just need to cut the veg up into similar sized pieces, so that it cooks at the same rate – you’ll process it at the end. If you want chunks of veg in the soup they need to fit nicely on a spoon and be bite sized. You shouldn’t have to “cut up” your soup!
With most soups it’s best to cook the onion in a little oil, very gently until soft. Use the same pan that the soup will be made in to save washing up a separate frying pan. Add the garlic and again, cook until soft.
Next add whichever prepared veggies you’re using, turn the heat up a little and stir around until lightly steaming. Add the stock cube dissolved in 500ml hot water and sufficient water to cover the vegetables. Season with pepper. Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked. Process to smooth finish/semi smooth, or leave it as it is.
If you have made an excessive amount it will happily freeze in a plastic tub once cooled sufficiently – usually cooling for an hour will work. It’s great to have some more for later.
Fun Egg Fact!
Did you know that eggs are categorised as XL (Very Large), L (Large), M (Medium) and S (small) by weight?
73g and over are XL, 63-73g are L, 53-63 are M and under 53g are classified as S!