Topic 2 Involving the youngest in home cooking

A fundamental role in the kitchen is to involve children in the whole process, from planning and buying the food to preparing the dishes. The earlier you start this the better. Children value more a meal in which they have contributed. This contribution will be adapted according to their age. Keeping them involved also helps to give them a say and the meals will also suit their tastes.

Children’s knowledge and skills need to be increased. Knowledge is increased by making them interested in what they eat. For example, fruits and vegetables should be presented as an important source of vitamins and nutrients. It is important to have variety, to introduce them to new vegetables, to let them know where they come from and why they are important. A simple activity is to show them why vegetables come in a variety of colours. With the little ones, you can show them how many different colours there are in nature: green, red, orange, yellow, white, brown, purple, etc. Curiosity can also be provoked with small experiments in the kitchen. Each of these vegetables provides different nutrients, which makes them unique. The same goes for flavours. It is good that they know how to experiment, that they dare to try new flavors of fruits and vegetables, both raw and cooked.

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The kitchen is a place to experiment and think about the chemical processes that occur. When cooking with children at home, you can explain to them the sweet flavors that are naturally in foods and those that are produced by cooking. One example is caramelizing onions when they are simmered in oil for a long time. Onions do not accumulate starch but the energy reserves are in the form of chains of fructose polymers. These chains are broken during a long and slow cooking and are the cause of this sweet taste. Another example is roasting vegetables such as pumpkin in the oven until they are lightly browned. To do this, cut the pumpkin into cubes, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and put them in a preheated oven at 200 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Another activity that can be fun with children is cooking dishes that are typical of other countries. You can always prepare healthy versions of these meals and adapt them to the tastes of each household. This can be an activity that can be left for the weekend as more time can be spent exploring the characteristics and customs of a country. It is an opportunity to try new foods and new flavors. There are books and recipes about foods from other countries such as Mexican, Thai, Chinese or Japanese food. Many of these countries eat vegetables in a different way that may be more appealing to children. Recipes can be adapted to suit the tastes and preferences of the household and even inspired to create new dishes.

The following table shows a series of spices with the country or countries where they are most frequently used. Many of these spices have healthy properties and also allow cooking with less salt as they give a lot of flavor and aroma to food.

GroupCharacteristics in the kitchenExample
Sweet warming terpenesStrong and persistent flavourCinnamon, Clove, Fennel, Vanilla
Warming terpenesEvaporate easy and flavour is reduced with long cookingAnnato, dill, Nutmeg
Fragant terpenesFast-acting and short-lived Coriander, Juniper
Earthy terpenesFlavour is tenacious and lingeringCumin
Penetrating terpenesUse in moderation or toasted, penetrating and tenacious flavourCardamom
Citrus terpenesCan withstand with long cookingLemon grass
Sweet-sour acids Tolerant to long cooking. Suitable to dishes containing sugarTamarind, Sumac
Fruity aldehydes Cook briefly or use rawCacao
Toasty pyrazinesCreate pyrazines by dry-toasting over 130ºCPaprika, Sesame
Sulphurous compoundsMeaty taste for vegetablesCurry leaf, Garlic, Mustard
Pungent compoundsIt is better to combine spices for more round heatChili, Ginger, Pepper
Unique compoundsBring unique aromas to a dishTable DataSaffron, Turmeric 

It is also interesting to share the food. Let the children of the house be the protagonists in preparing the food that is prepared when bringing family and friends home. This also serves to convey the health and environmental benefits that certain foods can have, and at the same time that they are very tasty meals.