Children can get wildly enthusiastic about cooking any time of the year. So add a Christmas theme to the mix and you may start to wonder why you ever let your energetic, highly spirited children loose in the kitchen… But if you do a bit of preparation and follow these pointers, you’ll be one step ahead. So relax, enjoy it and maybe you’ll even be willing to do it again next year.
Find the right Christmas recipe
Think about your child’s age and ability when picking a recipe; an almost no-cook option such as salted peanut and honeycomb rocky road, straight-up easy mince pies, little-hand-friendly chocolate truffles, or for the more advanced, Christmas advent biscuits. Once you’ve narrowed down a few options ask which one your child wants to make so they’re involved from the get-go.
Stock up on sprinkles
Children often find decorating the most fun part of cooking, so remember to load your decorating arsenal (if you’re short on time skip the cooking bit altogether and just decorate rich tea biscuits). Chocolate chips become snowman eyes, while icing sugar snow, red and green writing icing, festive coloured sprinkles and star cutters all help to create edible Christmas magic. Take care not to use anything that could be considered a choking hazard, though.
Allow heaps of time
Factor in extra time and then some. Weekends are a great time to cook with kids, as you can set aside a few hours to really give it your all: dig out Christmas decorations, put on some Christmas carols and channel your inner calm, creative Mary Berry.
Get out all the equipment you’ll be using in advance. If your child is five-years-old or more, they’ll probably benefit from the maths side of weighing and measuring out ingredients. If you’re cooking with younger kids then prepare all your ingredients in advance to avoid boredom and knocked over bags of flour.
Safety and hygiene
It’s a good time to teach kids about why we wash our hands before, during and after handling food, why we keep workspaces clean, tie back long hair and don’t pick our nose.
If your child needs to stand on a chair to reach a work surface, then make sure it’s rock solid stable. Talk about hot ovens and hobs, steam coming out of the kettle, why only adults should use knives and put a stack of teaspoons in a mug to encourage hygienic tasting over general licking.
Give kids precise things to do and let them get it wrong
Read through the method and assign kids tasks. Things like tapping a sieve over a bowl or using cookie cutters help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Let them get it wrong and have another go, even though it can be excruciating to watch. That’s to say, don’t be tempted to intervene and do it all yourself. For kids that can read you can get them to read out the method to the tune of Good King Wenceslas.
Talk about where ingredients come from
Cooking is a great opportunity to teach your kids about where food comes from, before it reaches the supermarket. It’s also an opportunity to practice a variety of animal noises in the middle of your Christmas carols.
You can be a bit proactive about this: putting newspaper on the floor, covering your recipe book in clingfilm or putting a printed out recipe in a plastic sleeve, wear aprons or dress everyone in old clothes.
But mess is inevitable, it’s best dealt with at the end, and everyone should muck in. A reminder that Father Christmas only brings presents to helpful children can come in useful here.
Remember to praise
Your child might be doing something incredibly easy, but it could be their first time doing it, and for them it’s probably not as easy as it looks. So remember to say well done and ‘ooh lovely’, smile and nod.
The end product won’t look much like the glossy magazine photo, but whatever your kid has made it’s their special creation and they’ll be so chuffed to hear you’re impressed with their efforts.
Take time to enjoy what you’ve made
Make a lovely fuss and take time to create a special setting to enjoy what you’ve made; set the table with Christmas decorations, switch on the Christmas tree lights, take a photo, invite granny over, the neighbours, cuddly toys.
Written by Amanda Nicolas