My four-year-old regularly offers to help me cook. On a macro level, this makes me really happy. Because I am trying to be a good parent, and I know that it’s beneficial to him to learn to cook. On a micro level, this does not make me quite so happy – especially if I’m in a rush trying to make a mid-week dinner while supervising homework and emptying lunch boxes. His approach to cooking could be best summed up in one word – impetuous. He likes to mix things together, even if they’re not supposed to be mixed together – like the time he poured a full cup of tea into the spaghetti Bolognese. Often when he helps, the whole process takes longer. But of course, I always welcome him with open arms and sometimes it even goes well.
My two girls on the other hand aren’t very interested in cooking, and to date, I haven’t chased them to join in. They can’t do everything, and if they want to go and play after a long day of school and homework, that’s always been good with me. But when I heard about Ben’s Beginners recently – an initiative to get children cooking – I wondered if I’m doing them a disservice.
The idea behind Ben’s Beginners to encourage parents to involve their children in cooking daily meals, which can help to nurture a lifelong love of wholesome food. The course includes; recipe videos designed for specific age groups based on cognitive and dexterous ability, and it’s all free.
I didn’t start cooking until I moved in with my now husband, when I was twenty-six. Neither of us knew how to do anything in the kitchen at all, so we decided we’d take turns to cook every second night, and have a rest on Sundays. So on a Monday night, I’d open a jar of Yellow Bean sauce and pour it onto noodles, and on a Tuesday, he’d open a jar of Bolognese sauce and pour it onto mince. You get the picture. A short (ahem) number of years later, things have improved, and I’d say I’m a no-frills, reasonably competent cook who can put something fairly healthy and tasty on front of the kids most week-days. My husband is the weekend cook, which involves lots of roasts, steak, and burgers – a welcome relief from my healthy midweek mediocrity.
But maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all three of my kids learned a few things about food preparation and cooking before they’re out in the big bad world and opening their own jars of yellow bean sauce? It certainly couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
So last Saturday, the four of us joined a Ben’s Beginners Cook and Play demonstration in Airfield, to see what it’s all about. We started by gathering some of the ingredients we needed – eggs from the henhouse, onions, and pak choi, then went back to the kitchen to start cooking – led by Louise Lennox and Aisling Larkin.
We were told we’d be making Nasi Goreng with peppers, onions, chicken and prawns. Three small noses wrinkled at this news. One doesn’t eat chicken, two don’t eat prawns, and none of them eat peppers or onions. I didn’t overtly wrinkle my nose, but I was sceptical about how all this was going to go.
They got stuck in – cutting stars and love heart shapes out of peppers while I took on the slightly more dangerous task of chopping onions (and heard a great tip for avoiding tears: put a metal spoon in your mouth – it works!). Then the kids peeled and grated carrots and ginger, and mixed a sauce using soya sauce, turmeric, and some ketchup. We tipped everything in the wok and they took turns to stir. We added chicken, prawns and rice, and then the miracle happened – all three started to talk about how good it smelled.
I don’t know if it was because they were genuinely interested after putting in all the effort, or if it’s because there was ketchup in the sauce, or if they were just very hungry at this point, but this was a first. When it came to plating up, all three of them queued up for Nasi Goreng, and all three declared it to be delicious.
Two days later at home, my eldest was begging me to make homemade granola. I said no problem, but I’d need her to do most of the work. So she measured all the ingredients and with some guidance from me, she made the granola herself (I did the oven bit.) Then I asked my seven-year-old to peel carrots for soup I was making. Meanwhile the small boy was throwing things into pancakes that weren’t supposed to be in pancakes but there are only so many miracles I can expect in a short space of time.
So I’m determined to keep the momentum going – to ask them to help out with cooking and try to get them interested in experimenting with flavours – rather than waiting for them to ask to join in. I imagine they’ll get there in the end either way, but if it means they can make their own yellow bean or Bolognese sauce when they move out of home, that would be a plus. And mostly I hope they’ll have more sense than to attempt making granola, soup, and pancakes all at the same time on a bank holiday Monday morning. Seriously.
Cook & Play with Ben’s Beginners is an easy and fun way to cook with kids, ensuring that they are learning age appropriate skills. Cook & Play is easy to use; visit bensbeginners.ie then choose the relevant age group for your child. Within each age group you will find a fun journey filled with age appropriate milestones, giving parents and their children a goal and reward.