Teach your children to cook from young

When does one learn to cook? Just before getting married with a crash course of mum’s cooking? Or after married when pressured to fulfil a dutiful wife’s role to cook for your other half?

For me, I started frying an egg at age 11 and after that, a few impromptu spaghetti and instant noodles here and there. It was really only after my 3rd newborn when I had a short SAHM period of 5 mths maternity leave was I able to proclaim myself as “able to cook”. For those months, I DID cook 3 dishes plus a soup every single day! Yes, it’s late I know. Better late than never. Hence, I decided that my kids shall start early. I feel that age 7 is an ideal age to start cooking a dish from start of preparation, using knife to chop garlic, etc, to cooking over a stove fire.

To let my kids handle the chef’s knife and open fire, I had my fears too. What if their small fingers got cut? Can they really handle the hot stove and hot pan? What if they scald their small hands? Or worse still, throw the hot pan away and scald their feet or other body parts?

Why 7 years old? I hear you ask. A 7 year old kid is tall enough to hold a knife and see what he is chopping or cutting. He is able to listen and follow instructions. He finds real cooking interesting enough to treat it seriously. He is eager to learn and that makes it easy to teach and a joy to learn. At the end of it all, he is proud to be able to cook up a dish all by himself!

During the March holidays (yes again!), I decided I shall let the kids cook up a dinner for all of us. I thought of some simple and easy Chinese dishes for XX and YH. They did fight over who to cook the most difficult dishes. (Sibling rivalry is still at play, I wonder will it ever stop?! *eyes roll*) But I had in mind age appropriate cooking with consideration of the steps involved. So I gave XX 3 dishes to handle:

1) steam cod fish, 2) Fried long beans 3) White rice.

YH was taught to cook just 1 dish:

1) Fried egg roll stuffed with fish meat

which requires a 2 step cooking. As for the soup, I cook lotus root with peanut soup with the kids help in preparation.

I started by giving them some safety instructions. I demonstrated how to chop garlic and cut ginger slices. As I went through the steps, I explained the nutritional value of the food we handled. I showed them some culinary tips in preparation of ingredients. There is much to teach when the kids cook alongside with you. I never knew that till I guided them and answer the questions that came to their little minds.

XX was good at chopping the garlic and ginger. She could cut to really fine pieces and thin strips. When it came to heating up the pan and adding garlic to heated oil, the wet garlic caused the heated oil to pop and she screamed. I anticipated this and held on to the pan firmly. But she was brave enough not to throw the pan away and continued frying the beans.

Cutting Ginger

Slicing Ginger

Cutting Garlic

Cutting Garlic

Preparing Cod Fish

Preparing Cod Fish

Frying vegetables

Frying vegetables

The cod fish was easy to prepare and is the kids’ favourite.
Recipe – steam cod fish with salted veg
– wash the cod fillet and marinate with little salt
– put cut salted veg on base of bowl
– put marinated cod fish on top of salted veg
– put thin ginger slices on top of marinated cod fish
– add 2 tablespoonfuls of water and one tablespoonful of fried onion oil (alternative will be just cooking oil)
– bring water to boil in rice cooker or wok (we use rice cooker)
– once the water boils, put in bowl of cod fish to steam for 7-10min depending on how thick the fillet is (take care not to overcook, you can use a chopstick to pierce into the fish meat to check if it goes through, which shows it is cooked)
– Ready to serve!

YH’s dish was a simple and yet a winner with kids. This is a recipe taught by Kelly, my dear friend who cooks time-saving and healthy dishes for her kids.

Beating eggs

Beating eggs

Frying eggs

Frying eggs

Recipe – Fried egg roll stuffed with fish meat
– beat 2 eggs mixed with some light soy sauce and pepper (2 is enough as we want a thin egg roll)
– pour in a ladle of the egg mixture in a heated oil pan over low fire (pan has to be flat)
– once the egg is cooked like a pan cake shape, take out and serve on a flat plate
– spread some fish meat (those used to make fish balls) thinly on the fried egg

– roll the egg with fish meat from the edge
– steam for 12 minutes

YH could handle most part of this dish except that he needed help on spreading the fish meat. It was quite sticky as opposed to spreading peanut butter. So, if you are not careful, you will tear the fried egg.

The kids were so eager to serve their dishes, they even prepared the dining table with cutlery, scooped up rice into each bowl and took their portion of food without me doing anything! You can bet that they finished each grain of rice in their bowl!

DINNER IS READY!

DINNER IS READY!

At what age, will you allow your kids to cook over a hot stove? And at what age did YOU do it? Love to hear your stories!!

32 thoughts on “Teach your children to cook from young

  1. I’m not sure when I’ll let my son handle knives or the stove. Right now, at 16 months old, I include him as much as I can during meal preparation. He helps by mixing dry ingredients, or putting cut veggies in a bowl or anything else I can think of.

  2. My eldest has been cooking since Pr 2 and now at Pr 4 we are moving on to more complicated dishes. While #2 will be starting his kitchen duties at 7yr old to. Regarding using a knife I have started that with my 3 yr old.

    • You start your kids really young! I feel uncomfortable letting kids handle knife unless they are matured enough. I will gradually let my P3 try cooking complicated dishes now that you have shared your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  3. My little one is 4. I have yet to introduce. real knife. I‘ll monitor and know when she is ready. Now she just help with beating eggs, washing rice and mixing some ingredients. As for stove, i think as long as the kid is tall enough to see what they are cooking, it should be safe enough as long as they are being supervised

  4. When I was young, my mum never let me into kitchen as she thought I will cause more trouble than help. However, as years go by, my mum finally allows me to help her up with mixing ingredient or folding wanton. Still, I really wish that my mum has started to train me to cook as now at my age. I can’t even whip up a meal of 三菜一汤.

    • Oh mums those days would prefer less trouble and mess I am sure. My mum is a home maker and she cooks everyday. But I only did real cooking of 三菜一汤 just 2 years back! I should have learnt from her many many years ago. But it’s never too late I guess. Maybe you should try your hands in cooking now. You never know. You may be a good chef! 🙂

  5. I try to have z help often, stirring, mixing, and such. Our stove is so hot that it will be a while before I trust it around her.
    She does help me clean up and do the dishes after though. She is almost 3.

  6. You have a very different definition of cooking from me – I can only stand in awe of your kids!

    For us, P started “cooking” at around 18 months, because there was no other way for me to get things cooked with just him and me at home by ourselves (I tried pushing through with him screaming around my ankles for a little while but it didn’t work out for my ears). Of course back then he was just doing basic things like washing carrots and then handing them up to me.

    Nowadays he often suggests cooking and will look through the recipe books until he finds something we have all the ingredients for. His latest was focaccia, which took the whole day by the time the yeast made the dough rise, but he was so proud of himself! Of course, focaccia doesn’t involve sharp knives, flames or boiling liquids so that’s a bit safer.

    I think it’s a really good exercise for kids in working diligently over prolonged periods and then being able to reap the rewards. A lot of the kids’ sweet treats are home cooked by them – that’s incentive!

  7. At a young age Mr. T liked to help bake, so we would make cookies and muffins and he would help. Once he was a teenager he expressed an interest in cooking so I would let him help and now, sometimes he’ll get up and make us breakfast! I like it! 🙂

  8. I’m all for letting kids help out in the kitchen. All 3 of my kids have helped me in cooking at one time or another, including my 3-year-old. By that I mean cooking at the stove, with fire and all. They love it and somehow, they think it’s fun. 🙂

    • Wow! I must be one of the conservative mum here to only start them at 7 yo lol!! I think with good supervision, hot stove is not that scary. We must start them early when their interest is great. Thinking of that, I will start my 19 mth old early too :p

  9. What a great post! The boys have been in and out of the kitchen since they were able to stand. Using knives started around 5 with very basic things. They do love to help which is great. I teach kids to cook because so many parents don’t have the time or patience which I can understand!

    • You are a great teacher in cooking I am sure! Knives at 5 seem early but since your kids did it does show that kids can do it earlier than 7 yo. I agree many parents are too busy to teach cooking, but they should. It’s like a life skill 🙂

      • I would only recommend knives at 5 if your kids are always in the kitchen and they understand they are sharp. 7 is a great age, I am teaching 3 American girls how to cook at the moment and they are doing a fanatic job (they are 8). I totally agree, it is a life skill!

  10. I think 7 is a good age for them to be able to handle the fire etc independently, but I guess they can start earlier with us parents hawking over, or if say you have an induction stove (a bit safer?). Sometimes I can’t do anything in the kitchen without all 3 kids fighting over who gets to do what *headache*. I do think it’s good to get them involved as much as possible from an early age to instill the love and appreciation of food! I hardly cooked until I went to university, and I had to cook then to survive.

    • Yes, if we hawk over them they will be able to cook safely at a younger age. We don’t have induction, much prefer fire since I can see the hot area. I am an old fashion cook lol!! Thanks for sharing! At least you started cooking earlier than me.

  11. Christy this is brilliant. Love the photos. My 3 guys were all “cooking” with me when they were young and all still cook today. As long as they are safe, like you say, then this is a great experience.

  12. Hi Christy! Thanks so much for sharing. I’ll get my 9yo girl to try this asap. Do you happen to know of any other recipes for kids to try? Most of the online ones I found are for western dishes and my family prefers good ol’ chinese dishes 🙂

    • Hi Grace,

      Thank you for your comments! Glad you like these simple dishes. I think if the steps are not too many and complicated, a 9yo child should be able to cook most simple Chinese dishes like frying vegetables, scramble eggs, simmering meat and even cooking soup. We just have to teach and guide them along. Start with something simple to get them used to the stove and gradually cook dishes that have more than 3,4 steps. Never underestimate kids. They can achieve lots and this is the best time to teach when they have lots of enthusiasm 🙂

      Share with me if you have good simple recipes! I will try to see if I can share more of mine 🙂

  13. How did I miss this interesting post before? How fun to read he comments on how others do it too.

    I’ve always had the kids in the kitchen with me. Gradually they have learned to help more, obviously they as toddlers just helped washing or stirring with my help. Nowadays we have started to train cutting with a sharp knife with the soon to be 5 yo. She handles a knife at the table well so cutting cucumber etc works well. My 3,5 yo often on the weekends helps to fry eggs and bacon (the kiwi side of the family… 🙂 ) but I wouldn’t let neither of the kids to those tasks alone yet.

    • Your kids start early but I am sure they are ready to handle the knives and frying pan with supervision. No, I don’t leave them alone too. Not till they’ve cooked at least 50 times or grown taller whichever comes first :p Frying sunnyside up is a little tricky if the sizzling gets too hot. I remember I used to fear the popping of the oil onto my arms or even face. Guess it has to do with control of the fire.

      • I wonder if this cooking together is just the normal European way? I think pretty much everyone I know has their children in the kitchen with them! But of course, there has to be supervision.

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