The Kids' Kitchen, founded by Nicole, runs award-winning cooking classes for children in London. They love showing children just how much fun cooking can be and, by involving them in preparing and cooking their own meals, encourage them to try new foods. Excitingly, they also provide bespoke birthday parties tailored to the age and interests of the little birthday chef.
We were over the moon when Nicole said she would be happy to be interviewed for our blog and we hope you enjoy reading her insights into cooking with children.
What do you love most about hosting the children's cooking classes?
I love helping fussy eaters and encouraging kids to try new foods and textures. It’s an amazing feeling to see kids try an ingredient that they that they didn’t think they’d like or that mum says they never eat at home!
I believe that if kids enjoy their time in the kitchen it will lay the foundation for a love of cooking and a curiosity about food and where it comes from. And this is of great benefit for them as individuals as well as for the wider family – cooking new recipes together can be as much of a learning experience for parents as well as children.
Which books about food or cooking would you recommend for children?
I don’t like many kids cookbooks – the recipes aren’t always great, and the books aren’t really fun or inviting.
I prefer using my own recipes and teaching skills in class, but with the pre-schoolers I use lots of reading books linked to the ingredients we are cooking with or more generally to teach the children about food/where ingredients come from. There are loads of these I love!
I love “how do dinosaurs eat their food?” which talks about table manners (all the series is fab). Then there’s Charlie and Lola’s “I will not ever never eat a tomato” which has great names for lots of ingredients (peas, tomatoes, fish fingers) and the “But I do know all about chocolate” is also good. Nick Sharratts “eat your peas”, is a classic, as is The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Pass the Jam, Jim.
The Supertato books are also lots of fun and one of my customers has introduced me to “Kitchen disco” which has become very popular in classes to and which is great for getting the kids recognising lots of fruit and veg. I was also introduced to William Steig’s “Pete’s a Pizza” about turning a child into a pizza which is fun to act out with the kids.
What types of recipes do you find children love making the most?
There are 3 types of recipes in the main.
First, those with ingredients that are almost universally popular – so anything chocolate at Easter time for example, or most baking.
Then there are recipes teaching skills like chopping or rolling and using gadgets that kids love (knives, mezzalunas, food processors etc) so the kids love to make fresh pesto for example or chop fruit for a crumble.
And finally, anything creative like stained glass window biscuits or gingerbread houses at xmas that have the wow factor for the kids and adults
Why do you think it is important that children learn to cook?
Cooking is such an important life skill but it’s one that’s dwindling as fewer parents cook themselves let alone with their kids. I think it’s really important to start kids cooking at a young age so we can teach them about healthy eating and help them broaden their palate before they become fussy eaters.
If we don’t encourage our own children to cook and set them a good example, the next generation won’t have the basic skills necessary to cook and be self-sufficient. Home cooked foods are mostly healthier, cheaper, lead to less food waste and so hopefully help in the rising tide of obesity.
Cooking is also a great way of teaching kids about other things that are important in their overall development: in class we learn fine motor skills through chopping, pouring, rolling etc as we cook; we also develop a better sense of smell and taste as well as touch (kneading bread is great for this).
On top of that, the kids learn about “subjects” too - geography (where ingredients come from), maths (weighing and measuring ingredients), literacy (reading recipes), history and culture (recipes that are tied to religious festivals or special days like Anzac day for example).
Healthy eating is so important, what are your top tips for parents who want to make healthy food more appealing to children?
The most important thing I find is to get the kids involved as they are more likely to try what they’ve made - try and ignore the inevitable mess and be relaxed. Even from a young age, kids can help mix ingredients, grate cheese, crack eggs, roll pastry etc.It is also important to encourage them with lots of praise and set a good example yourself by eating and enjoying the healthy food you’ve all made.
Definitely make food fun by theming mealtimes for example. This can be based on colours, shapes, favourite book/ TV characters etc. Have a look at Pinterest for great ideas, particularly the themed bento boxes. Food as “art” is a great idea – try giving the kids vegetables and fruit to create their own edible pictures or use fruit and vegetables as an art activity themselves eg potato printing, using beetroot “dye”, making pasta necklaces etc – and will encourage kids to be more hands-on with ingredients.
You can also grow your own ingredients (herbs, potatoes and tomatoes are all relatively easy) and/or go to a pick your own so kids can see how ingredients grow and then cook and eat what they have picked
Did you cook when you were a child and if so, who inspired you?
I did cook at home and went to cooking classes when I was about 12 which I loved and still have the cookbook today! I am lucky to come from a family who are all good home cooks, so cooking meals from scratch and eating well is something I've grown up with.
What are your hopes and dreams for The Kids' Kitchen
That’s a tough one. I’d love to be able to spread the message outside London where my classes are based and so help encourage more kids to learn vital cooking skills and try new foods. So a kids’ TV show, cookery book, range of cookware…the list goes on!
If you could do something else for the day what would it be?
Relax on a beautiful beach somewhere with my family and have someone cook me dinner!
What is your favourite children's book?
Another tough question! Probably Rod Campbells’ Dear Zoo (and all his other lift the flap books) and The Gruffalo (and indeed all of Julia Donaldson’s books including The Magic Paintbrush which few people know about) which my kids loved and I (seemed to read) constantly when they were little
If you could spend a day with one of the PrenderPals, who would it be and why?
Wilbo the Walrus as we share the same great taste in books (Dear Zoo) and birthday month (also November) and I’d like to think I’m also kind, caring and energetic!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our interview with Nicole. Please visit The Kids' Kitchen website to find out more about the fantastic work they do.
We can't wait for Nicole to open some kitchens up North too so that we can go along with Rosie and have lots of fun!