Cooking Teaches Children Valuable Life Skills
Nikki Geddes, founder of cooking class franchise Kiddy Cook, outlines why she is getting children involved in cooking.
Creator of Kiddy Cook
As a mother of two, Nikki, 43, from Hale in Cheshire, knows all too well about the challenges parents face with getting children to eat healthily.
In 2005, she began baking with daughter Alex, who was just three-years-old. Amazed by how engaged she was, and how much joy it brought her daughter, Nikki decided to see if other parents were interested in joining in the fun.
"I was inundated with interest. At the time, there was absolutely nothing like that around here. Jamie Oliver's school dinner campaign had just taken off, so there was a lot in the media about childhood obesity and the importance of helping children learn about food. The creation of Kiddy Cook came from being in the right place at the right time," she says.
As the popularity of her kids' cooking classes grew, Nikki decided to change her career in business development and put all her efforts into getting children involved in cooking with Kiddy Cook.
"I think when a lot of women have their first child, their priorities change. They want their children to be healthy and eat good food. I wanted to help parents with that."
Children Can Learn a Range of Skills
Nikki says that getting children involved in the kitchen isn't just about teaching them how to cook.
"In a lot of our classes we bring in a bit of science, so children can learn that carbon dioxide makes their pizza dough rise. We also encourage them to get creative and make carbon dioxide rockets and things like that. We do lots of experiments with taste and flavour, getting children really thinking about food and how textures work."
As well as academic skills like science and maths, hands-on cooking can also help children with dexterity and communication.
"When cooking with younger children, we're teaching them new words and how to communicate with one another. Tasks like chopping, peeling and mixing can also help with their dexterity. There are so many cross-curricular skills that children can learn with cooking.
"By showing them how to put ingredients together, children can learn how to create food that tastes good, is great for your health and is often cheaper than packaged meals. Cooking really hones in on valuable life skills," says Nikki.
Pictured above: Young boy gets creative at a Kiddy Cook baking class.
Conquering that fussy eating stage through getting children involved in cooking
Lots of children go through a fussy eating stage, where they won't touch anything you put in front of them. Nikki believes that having fun with food and not making a big deal of these issues can really help.
"The fussy eaters often try things while cooking because they're having fun. They're not really thinking too much or associating it with food at the dinner table."
She also says that getting children interested in different types of food at a young age will help them continue to be healthy into adulthood.
"It's about involving them in the process and getting that curiosity. Having a chat with them while you're cooking is a good start. It shows them that you can communicate when it comes to food. Get them interested subtly, without it becoming a really big thing."
Family Cooking is What Memories are Made of
Coming home from a busy day and having to cook, tidy the house and take care of children can be stressful. Getting children involved in cooking can make things easier all round, says Nikki.
"If your child just comes over for a chat and helps you peel a few potatoes or wash some vegetables, it makes the whole process a lot calmer, and you can really enjoy that quality family time," she says.
When she's not busy with Kiddy Cook, Nikki still loves to cook and bake with her daughter, now aged 13.
"Alex and I often make sweet treats like cakes and other desserts. We get to enjoy quality time together and it gets her away from her iPhone. My son Will, who is nine, will also come and help me cook sometimes too."
For Nikki, getting that family time while cooking or baking gives her a nostalgic feeling.
"I think cooking with your Mum or Grandma is what memories are made of. My Nanna taught me how to bake – I remember her always leaving the mixing bowl out for me to lick. Now she has Alzheimer's, so I help her cook and do what she taught me. It's a really nice feeling."
Pictured above: Alex aged 7, enjoying a tasting session at one of Mum's classes!
Give Children a Sense of Achievement
As well as private classes, many Kiddy Cook branches also work with schools and nurseries in socially deprived areas. You may think that kind of work is quite difficult, but Nikki describes the experience as being very rewarding.
"Helping children who aren't necessarily interested in school has definitely been one of my greatest achievements. The best moments are when you can bring them round, get them to enjoy themselves and try food that they've not had before.
"If you give a child an opportunity, they really relish it and feel like they've achieved something."
Letting your children help you cook and encouraging them to get creative can also help with self-confidence.
"The children come along and they're excited by the recipes that we're helping them prepare. They can take what they've made home with them to share with their family as well, which gives them a sense of achievement. When children are given ownership over what they're creating, they can really express themselves," says Nikki.
Getting children involved in cooking allows parents to learn too
Nikki says children as young as two can start learning about food. She believes it's important to get children interested in food at a young age, but there's also a lesson for parents too.
Pictured above: Emily Aird, aged 7 enjoying messy time at a Kiddy Cook baking class.
"We don't say to children ‘this is what you have to eat', we'll just say ‘this is really tasty, try it'. It's a message to parents as well as teaching children. We all need to be aware that fresh, home-cooked meals are much better for us than packaged food."
She also says that just because you're cooking with children, doesn't mean you have to go for easy recipes.
"Very often, children can do a lot more than they're given credit for. I'd bake with my daughter when she was three and she'd help me with whatever I was making. When making a meringue, for instance, she would hold the electric whisk and turn it on and off. (Please see our disclaimer at the end of the article).
"It's the same with ingredients, we don't shy away from using recipes with chilli for example, we just cut the quantity down slightly. It's about getting them used to lots of different flavours and textures," says Nikki.
Equipment You Need to Get Kids Cooking
Nikki stresses the importance of using the right equipment with children, and supervising them at all times.
"It's important to ensure equipment is child-friendly. We use brightly coloured utensils where possible, to keep them engaged. Small rolling pins and smaller spoons make things easier for younger children as well."
Le Creuset's Junior Cake Baking Set in pink and blue is the perfect introduction to the world of cooking.
Remember to supervise your children in the kitchen at all times. Never leave them alone with cooking utensils or hot pans.