Cooking with kids

May 4, 2012

Fried eggs with bread fried in butter is a dish my 9 year old son, Orlando, made up by himself. We ran out of bacon so he fried bread instead and it turned out to be a huge hit with him and his dad so now weekends involve Orlando proudly offering to cook breakfast. Him – so confident. Me – so proud.

Otilija, my 12 year old daughter, wanted to branch out of the usual round of baking ‘easy’ things like cookies and brownies. She wanted to make something that she hadn’t made before. So completely without assistance she found a recipe and made it. And it turned out delicious. And we ate that cake for Sunday afternoon tea.

Between the two of them, they have quite a repertoire of dishes that they can prepare without any kitchen assistance and I feel confident about letting them just go for it! They even (mostly) clean up the mess afterwards. They can make cookies and brownies and pancakes without help or even a recipe — just our basic family recipe that they like to tweak a little bit differently each time. They can make chicken schnitzel, bolognese sauce and chicken curry with just a few reminders and a little kitchen-hand assistance from me too.

As well as a love of good food and quality ingredients, they have a healthy respect for where food comes from, they know that free-range chickens and eggs are better for us and for the animals they come from (they watch Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall), they know that going to the farmers market is better than buying vegies and meat from the supermarket — better for us, for the land, for the environment and for the local farmers — they know about food miles!

So while I don’t pretend to be anything other than a family on a budget when it comes to food, buying quality ingredients (but not necessarily expensive) and cooking it ourselves is extremely important to us and how we live our lives. Some of you may be nodding in agreement – others may be rolling their eyes, thinking that they don’t have time to shop ethically or grow their own or even to cook every night, that they don’t have the money to buy organic and free range and local. But honestly what could be more important than what we eat – keeping both our bodies and our minds healthy?

But this is not a lecture or even a lesson, just a story of how I keep within a budget and feed my family and teach them to appreciate the good things in life.

Some tips:

1. Do shop at your local farmers market – I have found that in-season local produce (not necessarily organic) to be cheaper and way better quality than its supermarket equivalent. The trick is to buy what is in season, don’t get the exotic produce that has driven across the country or flown across the world. Stay local and buy in-season. It is fresher and cheaper.

2. Do buy meat locally too – organic, or free-range – at least grass fed. Yes it might be more expensive than the battery hens from the supermarket, but there are some ways to not increase your weekly spend:

  1. Don’t eat meat every night – mix up your weekly menu with vegetarian staples like hearty soups or spinach pie.
  2. Buy cheaper cuts of meat – there are some delicious ways to use mince and sausages and slow braising cut – buy chicken thighs instead of breast.
  3. Use the whole beast – make soup from the chicken carcass, take leftovers for lunch the next day, make pie from the Sunday roast leftovers.

3. Cooking every night does not have to be chore or time consuming or a gourmet extravaganza — here are some shortcuts for mid-week dinners:

  1. Give the kids a turn to cook – there is nothing wrong with mashed potatoes and sausages for dinner and you can relax for half an hour while someone else cooks.
  2. Make mid-week dinners easy by putting away dinner portions of bolognese sauce in the freezer for those occasions where cooking dinner really is beyond you.
  3. Create a diy – pick n mix style snack platter for dinner – the kids love it and it is easy to put together with leftovers, salad, crusty bread, a tin of tuna, cold meats and cheeses and chopped up raw vege sticks.
4. Do teach your kids to cook. Start off with letting them help you, then move on to helping them. Let them measure, stir, roll, chop and taste. Yes it will be messy and it won’t be quick. You’ll need to set aside time when you are not in a hurry. And you will have to get them to help with the clean up too. But some loud music can make that process a bit more fun. Teach them how to handle a knife properly, and let them learn to respect the stove top. Keeping them out of the kitchen is not doing then any favours in life!
The kids and I are in the process of creating an Action Pack: Family Cook Book — full of all our favourites and the best of all the kids did all the cooking! 

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