The Art of Nurturing Your Child’s Love of Food and Cooking

And how to entice them into the kitchen so you can create nostalgic memories together

Khusro Jaleel
Feb 13, 2020 · 10 min read
Photo by Brandless on Unsplash

a cold, wintry evening several years ago, my son said to me “Dad, what’s for dessert?” Oops! I was caught off-guard. I hadn’t given it any thought. Not to fret, though. This happens to me all the time and I always turn it into a fun and educational game with him; it doesn’t matter if it’s the main meal, dessert or breakfast!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. Sharp and tangy Braeburn apples sitting on the countertop. I knew I had sugar, cinnamon, and butter somewhere in the house. Boom! I was in business. Bonus points for the double cream I found in the fridge later.

So what do you think I did next? Did I make the dessert for him? No, of course not, where’s the fun in that!

Instead, I said to him — “hey, I could use your help to make dessert. Do you think you can help me?” Before I could finish that sentence, he was standing right next to me.

This, my friends, is how you gently and lovingly encourage, seduce, cajole, coax, use whatever word you want to use, but you know what I’m getting at — this is how you get your kids interested in cooking. This is how you make them drop that stupid tablet or whatever game they’re engrossed in and leap over the sofa cushions eager to make sure dinner that evening comprises more than a single main course. Dessert must be served.

Before I could finish that sentence, he was standing right next to me.

Now just to be clear from the outset, I’m not talking only about desserts and I’m certainly not encouraging you to ply your kids with more sugar. In all the years that I’ve been cooking with my son, we have almost always collaborated on the main meal with dessert being a distant option, and never a compulsory one. I actively encourage him to skip it altogether if possible.

Nevertheless, going back to our fun little game, I cored, peeled and sliced the apples into wedges. As I was doing this, however, I was constantly talking to him and asking him as many questions as he often asks me:

  • What do you think would happen if I fried these slices? Would they release some water?
  • Taste these apple slices for me — aren’t they a bit too tangy? What do you think we could do to fix that?
  • Wait a minute! Do you remember that apple pie we made last week? Didn’t that have cinnamon in it? What would happen if I fry these slices in a pan with some sugar, butter, and cinnamon? His reply: “Apple pie filling! Yessss!!

So we made apple pie filling and I drizzled some double cream on top. Warm and comforting, it was the perfect dessert for both of us that night.

My friends have often asked me — “how can I make my kids more open-minded when it comes to being adventurous with cooking or trying new foods? Can you please help me?” So I thought I’d try to condense all my thoughts into an article I can share with them.

To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the exact steps or methods I used to develop this bond between us. It grew organically between us as he continued to watch me cook and I kept answering his endless questions about what’s for dinner or why I’m cooking things a certain way. Luckily for me, he was always open to tasting things at least once, and if he didn’t like it, I never forced him to try it again.

So here’s my list.

Come up with creative reasons for them to be present with you in the kitchen
We love cooking food from around the world and I often look up recipes on Youtube. I’ve always used an iPad in the kitchen to help me with this. To help get my son involved in the cooking, I ask him to look up recipes for me on the iPad.

I try to inject a bit of fun and curiosity into each step that we are going to follow. For example, with spices, I ask him to guess the names as we go along. With tomatoes I ask him to test and grab the ripe ones for me. Fresh ginger is probably the most fun — so many weird shapes and sizes to choose from! He’s usually very happy to go and gather the ingredients for me and if he can’t find them I tell him where to look.

If we need to weigh things, I get the scales out but even there I find ways of making it more interesting. We go through the different units together (lbs, oz, grams) and this way he learns a bit about the differences between them too.

When we finally got hollandaise on poached eggs right! — photo by Khusro Jaleel

Invent fun experiments for them to do in the kitchen with you
Instead of going directly towards the outcome, create a fun little detour that will make your kids think, analyse and draw their own conclusions.

Here’s a few that I’ve used in the past:

  • Shall we add a little pinch of salt to these tart orange slices and see how they taste?
  • Let’s make Turkish eggs (Çılbır) for breakfast today. I wonder why they add salt to the yoghurt base. Let’s taste the difference and see.
  • Almond butter is really expensive, why don’t we make our own? Do you know how to do that? Let’s buy some almonds and I’ll show you. Can you help me find good quality almonds that are not too expensive? Do you think it’s going to be cheaper than store-bought? Let’s work it out.
  • What is garlic bread except a baguette with butter, garlic and parsley? Can’t we make that ourselves? Let’s try that.
  • Would you like to see some magic? Let me show you what happens if I put this chapatti directly on the flame. “Wow, dad, it’s going to blow up!!” Do you know why it puffs up like that?
Garlic bread made by us with extra cheese because we can! — photo by Khusro Jaleel

Make mistakes with them in the kitchen to teach them that mistakes are okay and part of the learning process
The two best examples I can give of this are when I made hollandaise and aioli for the first time. They were both total disasters. The water in the bain-marie for the hollandaise was too hot so we ended up with scrambled eggs and the aioli split because I was impatient when pouring the oil.

We didn’t throw the eggs away of course, we had really buttery scrambled eggs for dinner instead. He laughed and laughed for ages and to this day, years later, if you mention hollandaise to him he’ll tell you that story. And he’ll laugh again. It’s a fond memory, which leads to my next point.

Create memories with them in the kitchen
Long after you’re gone and hopefully even when you’re around your kids will constantly think back to the times that they first attempted to make something together with you. Not only will this remind them that the best food comes from the kitchen, not the supermarket, it will also fill them with nostalgia and love — two of the most powerful motivators if there were any.

Learning to cook will help them when they’ve flown the nest and need to provide nourishment for themselves. Baking sweets will only help them make desserts for themselves or a party.

Quick and easy cheesecakes that we made without any baking — photo by Khusro Jaleel

Encourage them to taste things along with you
Whether it’s salty, tangy, spicy, sweet or umami, I encourage my son to give things a taste and give me some feedback. This helps to expand his flavour palate without too much commitment. If he likes it, great, otherwise we both learned something that day. I’m well aware that his tastebuds will change as he grows older and he may start to enjoy things he didn’t previously (and vice versa) so I never pressure him on it.

Don’t just bake sweet treats with them
This is quite a bugbear of mine. Over the past few years I either hear from other people or am told directly about how they love to cook with their kids. As I delve deeper into what they actually enjoy doing with their kids in the kitchen the answer is almost always — cupcakes. Or cookies. Or brownies; you get the gist.

Granted that baking makes things easier for us parents and allows kids to have fun and feel that they’ve created something themselves — and I’ve already mentioned how each of these things is super important when it comes to getting kids into the kitchen. However, when it comes to cooking your daily or weekly meals to actually sustain and nourish you, cake, cookies or brownies don’t figure into the equation for me.

Bakers and those of a sweet-toothed persuasion (I’m one of them!) may disagree with me, but I’m going to be adamant on this point. Baking sweet desserts should be a once in a while indulgence and definitely not the norm. And because of this, I want kids to learn that the kitchen is about cooking and not only for baking sweet things. If you really want to bake, you could make a quiche, lasagna, a fish pie or casserole and that’s a much better story. This is food that they can eat the next day or for the next couple of days.

Learning to cook will help them when they’ve flown the nest and need to provide nourishment for themselves. Baking sweets will only help them make desserts for themselves or a party.

Set a good example for them to follow
I’ve heard this repeatedly since I’ve been a parent — you may not realise it, but if your kids see you reading a lot, they will do it too. If they see you on your phone all the time, that’s what they’ll do as well.

If you teach them early on that food is prepared in the kitchen, not the supermarket and not by the delivery guy on the bicycle then that’s the mindset they will develop and try to emulate.

They need to see you doing food prep, whether that’s for the day or for the week. They also need to wait for dinner to be late, and sometimes not be perfect. Because that’s what happens with real home cooking and real life. We make mistakes and life is not perfect.

Lamb and okra curry cooked by my son (with my help) — photo by Khusro Jaleel

If they believe they cooked it, they are more likely to eat it
A couple of years ago, I helped my son cook a lamb and okra curry from scratch. For the next two days, he told everyone how he prepared that curry all by himself. Everyone complimented him on it too which was a huge bonus. Did he eat it himself? Of course, and he loved it.

I suppose this final tip is an amalgamation of all the ones before. If you can ask for their help in the kitchen, conduct fun experiments and make mistakes, along the way they will be as much a part of that food prep as you were. If you’re really honest about it, you didn’t cook that meal all by yourself. You both had a hand in it, and that’s something to celebrate.

I hope these tips are helpful and my wish is that they help you find creative ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen so that you make lots of warm and nostalgic memories together. I’ve only just realised this but isn’t nostalgia the one thing that we all draw upon when we think of cooking and food? The mother, father or grandmother, the setting of the kitchen and the home. The smells. I believe that people who have these memories in their minds will always try to pass them on. I for one will certainly be glad if they do.

Safety tips and disclaimer:
I just thought I’d end this by mentioning a few important safety tips when cooking with kids.

This goes without saying but please be careful with sharp utensils like knives, box graters, food processor blades, mandolins etc. Do not allow small kids to use these because they will most likely injure themselves. You need to be your own judge here and decide whether your child is old enough to chop something or not. I have allowed my son to cut onions in the past but only half an onion for example (and with my help), just to make him feel involved in the process and I continued to chop the rest of the onion by myself. There’s no need to go further than that and take extra risks.

Cooking with meat and chicken in particular is another food safety risk. Always make it clear to them that they must not touch anything else (nor put their hands in their mouths) after handling meat, and must immediately wash their hands thoroughly after doing so. My son is well practiced in this.

Be careful with hot pans, steam and hot oil. Hot oil can sometimes pop so you need to keep kids away from it as much as possible. They can stand a safe distance away and see what happens but please make sure to get them out of the way as much as possible and take every precaution necessary for their safety. Moving hot pans with boiling water (when making pasta, rice or noodles) around the kitchen is another thing to be very careful about. Make sure they are standing a safe distance away before you attempt to do this.

Being mindful of these things will keep you safe and help you to enjoy the time spent together safely.

Lastly, it goes without saying but under no circumstance shall I be liable to you for any loss, damage or injury of any any kind incurred as a result of following my suggestions above. Your use of the advice and guidance I have provided is at your own risk. The information I have provided is for general informational and educational purposes only.

Khusro Jaleel is a technology professional based in the U.K. who loves cooking and somehow accidentally ends up hosting too many dinner parties! He doesn’t consider himself a foodie because he almost never eats out. He is a huge advocate of home-cooked meals, made with love, presence, and attention.

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing…

Khusro Jaleel

Written by

Techie who loves to cook. Advocate of home cooked meals. Father. Dabbles in poetry, guitar, nutrition and many other things!

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing seats at the table to dine, to laugh, to cook, to heal and most of all to share the stories of their unique journeys all over the world.

Khusro Jaleel

Written by

Techie who loves to cook. Advocate of home cooked meals. Father. Dabbles in poetry, guitar, nutrition and many other things!

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing seats at the table to dine, to laugh, to cook, to heal and most of all to share the stories of their unique journeys all over the world.

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