The kitchen isn’t just a room for preparing delicious recipes. In most busy family homes with sufficient space, it tends to be a hub of activity and a key social space throughout the day.
Those of you with younger kids in the house will know that the relative ease of cleaning down kitchen surfaces and oven tops also makes it an ideal location for all sorts of fun creative activities. On that note, here we’ve come up with ten simple ideas to inspire young ones in the kitchen.
Kitchens are typically where licking the spoon becomes a ritual for little bakers, and where their first simple experiments with mixes and ingredients start to take shape. But first, of course, you have to spark their interest.
The really great thing about food-related activities for children is that they familiarise young ones with all stages of the mealtime process - from planning a dish and handling utensils to cooking, serving, and (ideally!) cleaning up afterwards. This applies equally whether you’re actually making something to be eaten, or just using the kitchen space, tools and store cupboard staples for various other types of creative or artistic projects.
The next time they’re kept out of school, any of the activities below should provide an easy and fun way to spend a few hours learning creatively at home.
Cupcake-making is one of the easiest ways to get kids interested in kitchen creativity. Not only will they love the results, but the process of decorating them also offers a blank canvas for their imagination.
Baking is among the easiest food-prep activities for kids, and a tray of cupcakes is a very simple project to supervise. It won’t take up too much space or create a mountain of washing up, either - so whether you’re working with a compact oven or a full range cooker, it’s an ideal activity for kitchens of almost any size.
Basic cupcake recipes are super simple, requiring just a few cheap ingredients like butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla extract. You can experiment with any number of your own additions too, from chocolate and caramel to chopped nuts, fruity glazes and coloured icing.
The so-called nutrition rainbow is made up of red pigments (lycopene for heart, brain and bone growth), orange pigments (beta-carotene to support eye and hair health, and for its valuable anti-inflammatory properties), green pigments (folate, for healthy cell development), and blue pigments (anthocyanins, for reducing free radicals and boosting the brain).
‘Eating the rainbow’ is therefore an easy and fun way of making sure kids get their full daily intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The simplest way to do this is with creative presentations of various fruits and vegetables, or what we like to call the rainbow salad. Bright, vibrant, and fun both to prepare and serve, it’s a great way to encourage children to enjoy their veggies.
Once you’ve chopped and prepared the ingredients (you can let them carve up any softer ones with plastic knives), let them arrange their own salads into any sort of shapes or patterns they like - you’ll find children are much more inclined to eat healthy foods that are presented in a way they find visually appealing.
If you’ve got any nuts and seeds in the back of the cupboard that need using up, baking some fun little bird seed cakes is a really fun way to get the kids involved in both food prep and ecological awareness.
A few basic dry goods like seeds, nuts, raisins, lard, suet and grated cheese are all you’ll need. Make them into fun shapes using cookie cutters, bake for around 15-20 minutes at 180 C/Gas Mark 4, and cool on a wire rack before tying them to branches with string. If you don’t have a garden to hang the bird treats in, you can try placing them on a cat-free window ledge in a plastic dish or mesh feeder.
Not only are seasonal vegetables better for our health and the environment, they’re packed full of flavour and contain a higher concentration of nutrients than many imported varieties - an ideal choice for a healthy, balanced diet.
Eating in season is also a fun way to explore new ingredients, discover new veggies and learn more together as a family. Moreover, teaching kids about seasonal produce helps them understand important issues around food production and sustainability as they gain confidence in the kitchen.
Try cooking a seasonal recipe together once a month, and get them involved in peeling, washing and (where appropriate) chopping - it will really help them learn about what grows where, and at which times of year.
One of the most rewarding things to do with kids in the kitchen is to get them enjoying fresh veggies prepared in fun and interesting ways. Taking recipe ideas from other countries and cultures can cast something as simple as a carrot or a pepper in a whole new light.
A recipe like summer rolls is a great example - they’re a much healthier cousin of the spring roll, simple to make and with no frying involved. They’re also really bright and colourful, and a great occasional replacement for boring lunchbox sandwiches.
Adding in a delicious Asian dip (such as soy and ginger, peanut, or sweet chilli sauce) can turn them into a real taste sensation, helping to build much more positive associations with cooking and eating vegetables for even quite young children.
For families who love the beach, cereal sandcastles are a fun and tasty alternative when the weather is bad. They’re basically a slightly more ambitious version of the classic rice crispy bun - all you’ll need is some rice-based cereal, a cup of melted marshmallow, and some melted chocolate. Combine the ingredients, and start moulding!
Once made, setting the treats at room temperature is fine - but if you want to keep your castles standing for a little longer on warm days, place them in the fridge until firmly set. Slice carefully with a heavy knife to portion them out if they’re too big to enjoy in one sitting.
Whether you all brag about having the best spaghetti bolognese recipe, or you all enjoy baking pies, a Masterchef-style family cook-off involving the kids can be a fantastic way to keep them entertained for the evening.
It also encourages healthy competition, and can be a great lesson in collaborative working if you’re dividing yourselves into teams. Larger ovens - such as our range cookers up to 110cm - make it far easier for big families to work on their entries all at the same time, but if there’s less space available you could instead work on a ‘one course per team’ basis.
Kitchen herbs are a great introduction to both kitchen gardening and flavour science for young ones. If you have a bit of windowsill space that gets plenty of sunlight, it’s easy to create a mini indoor garden for growing everyday herbs such as basil, rosemary, mint and parsley.
Give your kids the responsibility for planting, watering and pruning their window box herb gardens. By propagating flourishing plants and using them to grow more, you can make your herbs last longer, saving you money and helping children learn about the fascinating life cycle of plants into the bargain.
Pasta crafts are fun and easy, not to mention one of the most affordable ways you can occupy your kids for a quiet afternoon. Ideally, you’ll supply them with a mixture of various dried pastas - farfalle bows, conchiglie shells, macaroni, rigatoni, penne and fusilli - with which to create anything from jewellery to landscape art.
Add a splash of paint for some extra creativity, and loop tubular pasta together with household string to create vibrant necklaces or bracelets. There are dozens of other craft projects they can make using pasta of all shapes and sizes, including greeting cards and paper plate faces.
Speaking of faces, here’s another fun way to engage kids in food crafts that are also entirely edible: get them to turn their healthy breakfast into a fun creative play session.
Smiley face toasts can be made with all manner of everyday ingredients like fruits, peanut butter, nuts, honey and chocolate chips. Blueberries, raspberries, and sliced strawberry, apple, melon and banana are all ideal shapes for making eyes, noses, mouths and ears. (For a weekend treat, you can always swap out the wholemeal toast for pancakes.)
As well as promoting the idea of a hearty and healthy breakfast to start the day off right, this is a great technique for encouraging younger children to try tasting lots of different fruits.
Perfect for the 21st century home-cook, this Cuisinemaster model combines fast and efficient cooking with a stylish, contemporary design, making it a striking centre-piece for any kitchen.