I’m sure that it’ll come as no surprise that I love to cook, whether it’s baking a sweet treat, whipping up a tasty dinner or entertaining friends. My love of cooking was hugely influenced by my Nanny & her skills in the kitchen, cooking for all the family & teaching her grandchildren.
So when my nephew asked me to teach him how to cook I was thrilled to have the chance to share my food passion & pass on some family skills. The Junior Chef Cooking Club was founded!
As I’m sure is common, my nephew is a bit vegetable averse shall we say! I took the opportunity to make a pact with him that we would learn to cook recipes with vegetables and he had to at least give them a decent try in the process. Children who are involved in cooking have a better relationship with food and also tend to eat healthier according to studies. Fingers crossed that involving him in the cooking of the meal would make him see that veggies are delicious!
Task one was deciding on the first meal to include in the lesson plan. Although baking was an obvious choice, I really wanted to focus on an actual family meal so I narrowed it down to 4 options and let him pick! It would be much easier to get the Cooking Club up and running with food he wanted to learn (& eat!) after all.
Speedily a selection was made. We would be making a family favourite, spaghetti & meatballs. Although this time there would be some ‘hidden’ veggies in both the meatballs and the homemade tomato sauce. (Are they really hidden when he’d know they were there?!)
Predominantly I prefer to cook from a recipe and I think being able to follow a recipe or set of instructions is a good skill to teach as part of cooking. So I set about creating a recipe card for the meal, which I broke down into children & adult activity sections. Not all the steps in the recipe would be suitable for all children to complete & careful supervision is needed. Adapt any recipe to the particular junior chef you are cooking with!
One thing that is hard to grasp as an adult who cooks a lot is the absolute beginner level of a child. My best advice is ask them lots of questions and encourage them to ask questions too. Do you know what this utensil is? Have you ever smelt this herb? It’s exciting to see them learn something new or discover something that may have lost it’s wow factor to you as an adult!
The lesson started with a quick warning about the dangers of a kitchen, boring I know but necessary! Followed by the thorough washing of hands, which happened repetitively throughout the lesson.
The main child activity of the lesson was prepping the ingredients for the meatballs. Starting with the job of squeezing the meat out of the sausages! Messy jobs can be a lot of fun for children & gets them stuck in straight away.
Grating the onion, carrots & Parmesan was the next task (with supervision). Thankfully there was no resistance to the addition of the carrot! There was also some oregano in the mix, and it was fun to get him to smell the herbs to see what kind of flavour it would add. He also loved my note not to lick the bowl as you would do in baking, raw meatballs aren’t as tasty as cake batter!
Cooking also opens up the opportunity to teach some other skills & once all the meatball ingredients were mixed together I worked some maths into the lesson! Dividing the mix up into small equal sized (well we tried) meatballs & then counting them out into the portions for everyone!
Whilst the meatballs were being produced, I started making the simple tomato sauce that would bring everything together. This really was an easy combination of chopped tomatoes (a definite pantry staple!), garlic, tomato puree, a splash of red wine vinegar & the addition of a grated courgette. This would get another veggie into the meal and add some additional flavour to the sauce. Extremely easy to make this sauce would easily replace a tomato sauce in any recipe & compared to the jars of pasta sauce in shops is considerably healthier for the whole family!
The sauce happily simmered away whilst we got to the hardest task of the whole recipe – cooking off the many meatballs we had created! At this point the adults do take control of the meal for safety & unable to really participate it was the ideal time to send the Junior Chef off for a little break & tidy up the kitchen.
Once all cooked the Junior Chef came back to help finish off the meal. I loved showing him the trick with testing if the spaghetti is cooked – yes it did stick to the wall & I’m not sure Mum was that happy I’d taught him! It was then time to dish out the portions and show off his hard work in a delicious, nutritious meal for the whole family!
The first lesson was a huge success & lots of fun for all of us! New skills were learnt & a delicious dinner cooked for 4 (probably more like 5!). It had lots of flavour, was a healthier choice and the hidden veggies were consumed no problem! He’s even started to try some other vegetables with other dinners. A definite success to the start of the Junior Chef Cooking Club & a very proud Auntie!
Lesson 2 will be PIZZA!
Date: August 2019