By Leoné Gardner. Owner of The Feast Fairy, where she works as a caterer and consultant as well as a cooking & baking instructor. She also tries to nurture her green thumb, spend quality time with the family and watch good movies.
I vividly remember the day when I realised that food is magic. It was a cold, grey day. My mom baked spiced apple muffins topped with crunchy cinnamon sugar. The kitchen was cosy and smelled like heaven. We wrapped the steaming muffins in a clean cloth, and set off for Kyalami. There was a hot air balloon show that day, and we stood watching as dozens of brightly coloured balloons floated down from the sky to land all around us. My mom gave me a muffin and when I broke it open, fragrant steam rose up to my face, and with the first bite I was truly in a Happy Place. It was magic – bringing love, joy, warmth and utter happiness to my heart. To this day every time I see hot air balloons I think about those muffins.
I find it gratifying to see this same spark of magic in the faces of those I teach in my cookery classes, years later. To be able to cook is a life skill but it’s also about having fun, encouraging curiosity, learning, being creative and sharing.
By connecting with food at such a basic level through cooking, kids can develop a healthy relationship with food, and also learn to appreciate others’ efforts. Exploring new ingredients and recipes, encourages learning about different cultures and shows how maths and science can be useful in the “real” world.
It may be daunting to let your little ones loose in the kitchen wielding sharp and breakable things, so here are some ideas about how to get started.
Tips for getting your kids started
• Take notes
Give them a file or notebook to keep track of what they’ve made, make notes as they go, and start a wishlist of things they would like to try. You can kick things off by adding easy-to-make recipes that you think they would enjoy making.
• Let them choose
With kids too young to cook, start by letting them choose a meal from a shortlist that you provide. This way the child can feel included even if they don’t do any of the actual cooking yet.
• Younger kids
Start young kids on simpler items, like stirring, spreading, sandwiches or salads. The sandwiches can be for the school lunchbox or for the whole family to enjoy for Saturday lunch. Having one of the kids prepare a salad while you do the rest also lightens your workload. But just having a young child observe you making such items is a great way for them to start learning.
You may need to supervise in the beginning, but really try to not take over (this can undermine their confidence). Sit nearby and have a chat with your little chef. Or dad can get the fire started, then just hover inconspicuously while your boy braais the boerewors for the first time. Spending one-on-one time like this with your child is not only a wonderful bonding experience but something your child will remember for years to come.
• Cooking together
Let siblings cook together. If you have more than one child, this could provide your kids with some precious bonding time and give you space for some grown-up time. Older siblings can help younger siblings with the more difficult tasks.
• Prepared ingredients
Buy some of the ingredients pre-prepared if you aren’t comfortable enough yet that your child can for example chop a carrot. Many supermarkets now stock packets of chopped veggies to make soups with, but can be very handy for other types of dishes too.
Assign a specific weeknight meal or a weekend meal to a more adept child, based on their age and cooking ability. This teaches them to plan ahead: plan the menu, check stock & add to items to the shopping list as needed, and even time management on the day.
• Offer an incentive.
The cook is exempt from washing up duties. Especially effective if you already have the kids help tidy up after dinner.
Get one or more children’s cookbooks.
• Cooking classes
If your child is interested, let him/her take lessons as an extra-mural activity.