How old would your own child need to be before you set them loose in the kitchen? Do you believe a kitchen is a dangerous place (all hot things and sharp knives, and far too risky), or have you always tried to encourage your child to take part when it comes to cooking?
My own daughter Amy was given a fabulous children’s cookery book from Santa this year - if Santa thinks its OK for her to cook a chocolate cake or chicken goujons, who am I to argue?! Amy turned 9 at the end of December, and I’ve always tried to find time to have baking sessions with her. We’ve turned out sticky buns (with lots of icing), the old favourite rice crispie cakes, shortbread (good excuse for using all those shape cutters), and loads more. But it’s always been based around “baking”: weighing the ingredients, stirring them up, rolling out or tipping into the baking tin. Then I would take over with the hot oven bit.
But this weekend was different! Amongst all the cake recipes in Amy’s new book there is a big section on main meals, full of things like chicken skewers, curry and rice, savoury pancakes - and chicken chow mein. It could be the fact that it’s the Chinese New Year, but Amy decided she wanted to cook chicken chow mein from scratch, herself with no (well, very minimal!) help. She wanted to cook a proper grown-up dinner for the family - none of those soppy rice crispie cakes here, thank you! So we wrote out a shopping list for the ingredients, bought everything we needed, and last night she set to work.
Now, chicken chow mein involves all those scary things: hot water to cook the noodles, sharp knives to cut the chicken and vegetables, hot fat to stir fry. Was I nervous? A tad…
I confess I took over the boiling of the noodles - the site of all that bubbling hot water, yikes! But step two in the cookery book involved peeling and slicing carrots, chopping spring onions, slicing beans, etc. I handed Amy a very sharp knife and gritted my teeth….. She was fine - she was very careful and respectful of the sharpness of the blade, took care to make sure her fingers were clear - honestly, she was fine!
So next step: stir frying the chicken. OK, oil put into wok and heated [gulp], chicken tipped carefully in [gulp], wooden spoon handed over: and she was off! Stirring the chicken like a seasoned pro, taking on all my comments about keeping it low so that the oil doesn’t splash, etc, etc. Then we added the vegetables: more stirring in hot spitty oil, and finally the noodles. Stir, stir, stir.
I can only say that the meal was fabulous - tasty, cooked to perfection, and with clean plates all round afterwards. What was most interesting was that the recipe included mangetout and fine beans - both vegetables that Amy normally “hates”, but it seems when a child cooks their own dinner these things lose the yuk factor. She scoffed the lot!
So, despite the fact that it was a great way to encourage my child to eat vegetables she wouldn’t normally, was I right to let her near the sharp knives and hot fat? Would you let your 9 year old do something like this too? Am I overly cautious/not cautious enough?!
Happy Year of the Dragon!