Cooking with Kids: It's not all about the cupcakes

Cooking with kids graphic


“Dad of five and Ireland and Munster Rugby legend, Ronan O’Gara is leading out the Ben’s Beginners programme, which seeks to encourage Irish mums and dads to get cooking with their children, and nurture a lifelong love for wholesome food. Ben’s Beginners believes that when parents and children move from setting the table to cooking together, it leads to a better relationship with food, with healthy meal preparation and with each other.”


So read the press release in my inbox, since I’m a fan of cooking with kids I kept reading:

“The key points that the survey shared were that in the research with kids under seven:
-30% could not identify a red pepper and 85% cannot correctly name a leek
– Nine out of ten children can identify broccoli but only 58% can correctly identify courgettes
– Only a third of children surveyed knew what chips are made from
One in three could identify what animal ham was made from”

Like any competitive mother I decided to test my kids on the way home from school. I was confident with my eldest who’s just turned six, and as expected he scored 100%. I was less sure of my four-year-old but he came good, and surprised me with getting them all right too, although he did tell me that courgettes are made from cucumbers. He has the right idea at least, he knows what they are, but purely to confirm how much he hates them.

I’m quite certain that I had never seen a courgette when I was four, and I’d say I was closer to ten when I first tasted a red pepper, but times have changed and these are common vegetables nowadays, and ones that can usually be found in our fridge. We never had leeks in the house as kids either, but again my kids know them well (and one passionately detests them). So while these statistics are interesting, and certainly grab attention, (the Food Dudes programme in schools is probably to thank for some of the recognition) I can’t help but think that whether a preschooler can identify a leek isn’t really an indicator of how well nourished that four year old is.

So while I’m not jumping to any conclusions about the survey, and I’d be interested in the responses that the parents of those children would have given to the same questions, I do like the idea behind the press release. It’s the “Ben’s Beginners” programme which aims to “get parents and kids cooking together at dinnertime”. Since it’s sponsored by Uncle Ben’s it wants us to use rice to cook with our kids (they can sweep the floor afterwards, self-feeding toddlers and rice are not a good combination), and there are prizes galore for the winners. (You can check it all out here).

The press release continues to say that the research shows that four out of five parents surveyed believe that being able to cook sets their child up for life, but that in practice only 14% of children prepare evening meals. I’m not surprised. The survey tells us that time pressure is the main reason for this, followed by a preference to get the job done themselves and 20% think that the children don’t have any interest in cooking, yet when asked if they’d like to cook more with their parents a whopping 79% of kids said that they would.

I like this idea of getting kids into the kitchen and involving them with their food, but with the proviso that it’s not for every day. It’s just not possible in most houses with young children where dinnertime is a busy time of day with tired kids, tired parents and everyone is cranky hungry. However, I do think it’s important to get kids cooking, it’s educational, it keeps them busy and out of mischief and they love spending time doing it. Win win.

Don’t fall into the cupcake trap though, stay away from the gingerbread men. I’ve been there, it’s not worth it. It’s messy, it’s hard work. and you still have to feed them when you’re done. You’ll find sprinkles in every crevice for weeks afterwards and get used to that lovely shade of blue food colouring that’s staining your kitchen table.

Teamwork I do not recommend this course of action Photo: Sinead Fox

My boys have been “helping” me cook since they were about two. They can both (messily) make a sandwich, they are handy with a grater and can “roughly chop” with dinner knives with the best of them. Sometimes when they want to help and I’m in a hurry I get frustrated but then I set them up with chopping boards and surplus ends of vegetables at the kitchen table, well away from my own work area and I let them get busy. They think that they’re helping and they’re happy and I can get one with things.

I have yet to see any truth in the tip often suggested that if you involve kids in the cooking of food that they will eat it. There is nothing that could make a mushroom pass the lips of my six-year-old, even if he had hand reared it himself, and my smaller boy will spend hours chopping vegetables and tending to a meal, confirming regularly that he’s definitely not going to eat it but he likes to help making it.

But there are so many benefits to getting the kids cooking, not baking, cooking. Hold off on the sprinkles, they can’t live on them when they’re in college. Make them dinners, let them watch, have them grate, or stir, let them them peel, keep them involved, it’ll pay off. Now all I need to do is to train them to clean the kitchen after themselves, or better still, after me.

Photo credit: Nancy D. Regan via photopin cc

Disclosure: I have no affiliation at all with Uncle Ben’s and received no payment of any type for this post. Sometimes I just blog about things that are mentioned in press releases I’m sent.

10 thoughts on “Cooking with Kids: It's not all about the cupcakes

  1. Oh I agree with you 100%. My kids all know what red pepper is but probably wouldn’t know what a leek is. They know broccoli and green beans and mushrooms, but probably not courgette. But they eat almost no vegetables at all, so I hide them in pasta sauce a few times a week, and serve them “openly” a few nights a week, upon which they end up in the bin.
    Likewise, helping to cook does not (in my house) lead to any actual eating. But they do like it, and we do persevere. Great post!

    1. Thanks, I think you either get a kid that eats vegetables or you don’t, and no amount of “helpful tips” will change that til they suddenly start eating them. Good on you for persevering.

  2. Ha I loved so much of what you said, especially your disclosure.
    I am someone who has cooked every day for nearly 25 years, most days two to three different dinners, and I have yet to learn to love it, or even to like it.
    My two older children seem to have no problem cooking at college for themselves although they had very little interest in what happened in the kitchen once they became teenagers.
    The two younger ones do however really enjoy baking, which is also not something I do too often, but they do it anyway.
    Anything that gets families eating proper home cooked dinners is good in my book.

  3. It’s great that you’ve gotten your kids I help with the cooking since they were only two!Ive gotten so bad for cooking-have to really make an effort now and will try and get Mini involved.They chop vegetables at her pre school and make soup and bake bread so I’ve no excuse not to try and get her involved,though she’s still one of the 30 second attention span kids!
    Your disclaimer made me laugh!

  4. Good reminder to get cooking more with my kids. I have done plenty but not very consistently, especially of late. Like you say my kids may be able to identify all the vegetables but it would not be an indicator of whether they would eat them or not. Nice idea behind the programme though

  5. i get the kids in the kitchen with me but i think you are right! It does not help them eat any of it! Oh well at least they know what a red pepper is 😉

  6. Im a fan of assisting children in the kitchen early….especially when preparing wholefood dishes and preping fruit and veg….sounds like a great incentive…we are really making the most of the food dudes program by bord bia and through the primary schools. They are keeping a chart of all the fruit and veg they have tasted…..great to have the back up from the schools:)

    1. I’ve mixed feelings about food dudes, it’s great that kids are being exposed to veg that wouldn’t normally be but kids should be allowed to not like foods too I think, and some kids get very stressed about having to eat something that they don’t want to to win a prize.

      1. Oh o.k havent witnessed that! I was out with the beaver scouts the other night and they were all chat about what they liked and didnt like…I think the prize is for tasting rather than liking….my daughter will never like raisins!! Of course its not flawless but a nice time for parents to get conversations going on food variety etc..

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