Cooking with children

Image credit: iStock

Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

Some people enjoy cooking their families and their pets.

Some people enjoy cooking, their families, and their pets.

Now that we’ve gotten that old joke out of the way – let me assure you that we are definitely not talking about the former sentence today. If you’re looking for ways to slow cook your wiry, uncooperative child into a tender ragout, you certainly won’t find a how-to guide here.. (Go away now – before I call the police!)

Instead, what we are talking about is the theoretically charming, fun and delicious act of cooking a meal together with your child. Run a quick Google search and you’d see millions of well-lit, perfectly framed images of smiling children cooking serenely in a Martha Stewart-worthy kitchen, devoid of any sort of burns, wounds, or tears.

Here’s where I feel obligated to point out: that is not real life. Cooking with your child doesn’t look like that at all!

Our family is a textbook example of all the things that could go wrong while cooking with a child, though we’ve actively involved A in the kitchen since the age of two. Just last year, our little girl put her fingers into the stand mixer – while it was still running. Ow. The year before that, as she was still working on understanding the magic of doors and drawers, she shut her finger in the lowest – and heaviest – kitchen drawer. Double ow.

And then, there was last night, when we decided to make chocolate soufflés. A was over the moon! Chocolate cake was her favouritest thing in the world, she declared. An hour later, the kitchen was almost a FEMA disaster zone, and she was covered in melted chocolate and blobs of meringue. To make matters worse, in her excitement to have the first taste, she burned her fingers on the piping-hot soufflé dish. Ow, ow, ow. Let’s just say that a child’s innate curiosity, their ‘itchy fingers’, and certain aspects of the kitchen do not mix well.

Still, I’m not about to convince you to entirely avoid cooking with your child – quite the opposite, actually! Despite all of the above, I heartily recommend cooking with your child, early and often.

As soon as A could be wrapped in a sling, I wore her while I cooked dinner, intentionally talking about all the things I was doing in the kitchen. As she got older, I started to let her help me out, in a totally age-appropriate way, of course. (For an expert-approved list of ways to enlist your children in the kitchen, check out this link).

I know A is curious, but I also recognise that she is careful and cautious. She listens well and I trust her. By the age of two, we let her have her own proper knife (with a real, sharp blade) and chopping board to cut up softer things like bananas or mushrooms. We’ve had our share of thrills and spills – but never a knife injury.

No matter how you involve your child in the kitchen, remember to take it slow. Don’t try to bond with your child while cooking dinner on a night when you’re stressed, hungry and trying to get food on the table in less than 30 minutes. The fun of it all is doing so at a pace that works for both of you. Savour the journey, and don’t stress about whether you ever make it to the destination.

Through these culinary sessions, aside from finding a new way for us to connect, I hope A has also gained many, many memories: of happy, chaotic evenings with Mum, making messes in the kitchen and remembering – in paraphrasing Irish playwright Samuel Beckett – to fail better the next time.


Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at

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