Cooking with Kids: Nurturing the love of cooking in children

Six-year-old culinary wonder Kayla Lim Yu Ying.

 Does the idea of cooking with kids daunt you? Most parents are reluctant to let their kids “help” in the kitchen. Kids can make a lot of mess – from breaking eggs to spilling flour to spraying tomato sauce; they turn up the heat in the oven if you turn your back for just one second. Imagine kids sliding a chicken fillet into a frying pan with hot oil? Scary. And of course, knives. Kids and knives, they just don’t mix.

Right? Wrong. Take it from Singaporean mum and Palate Sensations Culinary School Chef Low Shih Erh. Her daughter Kayla, who turns six in November, has been helping in the kitchen since she was 3.5 years old. While kids her age would be rummaging the pantry for snacks that come from the box, Kayla would confidently declare, “I want to cook vegetables today”, and troop to the fridge, get some fresh mushrooms out, and start mincing.

 

Kayla at about 4 years old.

Among her favourite to make is mushroom soup, from scratch. As she spends more time in the kitchen, Kayla has also added more treats that she could make: Bread, muffin, jelly, stir-fry noodle, dumpling.

The life-long benefits of cooking with kids

Whether they’re 3 or 13, getting kids involved in the kitchen has numerous benefits.

First, what they touch and taste, they would most likely eat. Cooking with kids encourages an appreciation for healthy meals, the foundation of good health. Letting kids cook also empowers them to fix their own meal and not rely on a parent or carer to do it. Older kids would feel great being able to take care of and feed their younger siblings with meals they could enjoy together, creating stronger sibling bonds.

 

Cooking with kids also boosts their confidence. Whereas the tendency of most parents is to tell kids “No, don’t touch that,” or “You can’t do that” when kids try to get involved in the kitchen, those kids whose parents allow them to participate turn out to be more confident and clever about handling boiling water or hot oil or sharp knives.

Chef Shih couldn’t agree more that the parents’ tendency to be over-protective could get in the way of their children being confident in the kitchen.

“Singaporean parents are protective. They would not let their kids handle knives, they think a kitchen is a dangerous place. I don’t quite agree with not letting kids do anything. They have to touch, get their hands familiar with kitchen equipment, so they can learn cooking, which is a life skill,” Chef Shih shares.

Little Chef in the making. Kayla at the Palate Sensations Culinary School studio.

And a life skill it is, indeed, which unfortunately some people don’t get to develop until much later in life. “People come to my class at 30, 40 and they can’t even hold a spatula properly, that is a shock for me. They can’t even do simple stirring,” Chef Shih adds.

For Chef Shih and Kayla, cooking together has also become a special teaching moment. “She is an opinionated child, so when we are cooking together, I get to know her more, her character, and how she communicates. To me, it is good to see that she can tell other people exactly what she wants,” she shares. Chef Shih also takes the chance to teach Kayla Mandarin, their mother tongue, while they are cooking together.

How does Palate Sensations Culinary School ensure safety when cooking with kids?

Cooking with kids classes at Palate Sensations Culinary School provide kids with hands-on experience in the kitchen, let them have fun with friends and while observing safety. Explains founder Chef Lynette Foo, “There are no open fires, the chefs keep a close watch on the kids, the ratio for the chef to kids is small at about 1 to 8 kids maximum. Safety briefing is done before the start of the class, paring knives are used if they are less than 12 years old,” she shares.

 

 

Kids at work at Palate Sensations Culinary School. Image: Palate Sensations

 

So does this Singaporean mum expect her young daughter to become a professional chef like her in the future? “I don’t expect her to be a professional chef if that is not what she eventually would like to be when she grows up, but of course I want her to a least learn how to prepare a meal, how to cook food that she likes to eat, and, being a sociable person, to make food she could share,” she shares.

From one parent to another: Thoughts about letting your kids help in the kitchen

For parents in Singapore thinking about cooking classes for their kids, here are thoughts Chef Shih would like to share:

Given that Kayla is showing an inclination for culinary arts, is it your desire for her to also become a chef like you? Or what does she tell that she wants to be when she grows up?

Frankly, its all fun and games for her at this age. She may also enjoy it now but may discover other joys in life as she grows up. She is already also showing interests in science and nature. I am more inclined to let her be exposed to all sorts of activities and experiences while she is young and then she herself can figure out what she wants to achieve in her life.

What must parents in Singapore realise about letting kids get their hands dirty in the kitchen?

I think that most parents in Singapore are very pragmatic and would want their children to develop a life skill or have a certain body of knowledge. Be prepared that your child may fall in love with the physically challenging culinary arts and pursue a career there rather than a comfortable desk-bound job in front of a computer!

How can learning cooking skills at a young age be helpful later on in life?

Cooking demands not just effort from every part of your physical body, it also involves mental planning, calculation and discipline. On top of that, being resourceful and adaptable are also strengths developed while in the kitchen. Are not all these skills, traits and life characteristics useful in any adult life?

Enroll your kids at Palate Sensations Culinary School’s 5-day Junior Culinary Bootcamp starting March 16th and our 3-day Japanese Cuisine for Kids starting March 17th. Pay for one kid and bring another kid to class for free if you book for the full 5 or 3 days. We hope to see your kids at the studio!

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