It’s a well known fact that while little children like ‘helping’ in the kitchen, parents aren’t always quite so keen. Penelope Friday shares some tips on how to make the experience happy for both parents and under-fives.
1. Buying ingredients
Start with going to the supermarket to get the ingredients you need. Even tiny children can recognise certain products. Ask your child to point at them when he or she sees the butter, or eggs. With slightly older children, making it into a game is more exciting: “Could you pick up a bag of flour from the shelf, please?” is not nearly as interesting to the average four-year-old as: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the flour when we pass it. Your mission is complete when the flour is put into the trolley.”
2. Finding ingredients
Before you start cooking, put all the ingredients out where your child can reach, then get them to find each ingredient as you need it: “We need sugar next – can you find the sugar?
3. Greasing the cake tin
Entrust your child with buttered paper, and give him or her a cake tin to grease. This can keep kids happily occupied for some time! How much butter ends up on the tin and how much on the child is a moot point, but if you want some time to measure out some of the less child-friendly ingredients, it can be a good distraction technique.
4. Measuring out
There’s a good reason for distraction techniques, because there’s no denying that letting the average pre-schooler loose with a bag of flour is a sure-fire way to get a flour-covered floor. And child. And parent. Instead, why not tell your child what ‘number’ you are measuring to, and ask them to tell you when the pointer reaches it. If you then allow your child to pour the ingredients into a large mixing bowl (the larger the better, so there's less chance of an accident) you will end up with minimal mess, yet still have given your child the feeling that they've really helped!
5. Making a noise
Most children love getting the chance to make a noise. If you use a food processor to cream the butter and sugar, children will be thrilled at the chance to press the button to make it whir into action!
Some people might argue that children are all too good at stirring things up! But when it comes to a stiff mixture like Christmas cake, it’s advisable to let your child stir first, so they can see ingredients beginning to mix. When it gets too hard, you’ll find most children will be happy to let you take over.
After the Christmas cake is made and iced, all that's left is decoration. Even the tiniest child can ‘help’ in decorating a cake – but if you don’t actually want your cake decorated in a three-year-old's unique style, there are ways around this. Either use a small amount of the Christmas cake mixture to make a tiny cake for your child to decorate, or buy a Belgian bun and allow them to decorate that, which you will then be required to display beside your own creation on Christmas Day!